Cook Islands are set to play in the inaugural IRL World Series in 2025 to determine the final men’s berths in the 2026 World Cup to be played in the Southern Hemisphere.
After revamping the World Cup structure to 10-teams, and eight each for the women’s and wheelchair tournaments, the IRL announced the establishment of a World Series and further details have now been confirmed.
The World Series concept will be introduced in 2025 to determine the remaining two men’s berths for RLWC2026, alongside the quarter-finalists from last year’s World Cup – Australia, Samoa, New Zealand, England, Lebanon, Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
The World Series will be contested by one team from each of the IRL’s four regions, with Cook Islands – as the sole eligible Asia-Pacific nation – to play the winners of the Americas, European and Middle East-Africa (MEA) qualifying tournaments.
The top two teams will qualify for RLWC2026 and after qualifying for the 2000, 2013 and 2022 World Cups the Cook Islands would be considered genuine contenders to win the inaugural World Series.
Cook Islands will prepare for the World Cup qualifying tournament by playing in the Pacific Championships, with the team travelling to Port Moresby to play Papua New Guinea on October 15 and Fiji on 22 October.
The squad is expected to include South Sydney prop Davvy Moale, Cronulla’s Kayal Iro, Parramatta prop Makahesi Makatoa and former NRL players Brad Taikarangi, Esan and Steven Marsters, Zane Tetevano and Pride Petterson-Robati.
After announcing the new look World Cup structure and international calendar until 2030 at July’s Board meeting in Singapore, the IRL Board met again this week and agreed on further details.
RLWC2026, to be hosted in the Southern Hemisphere, will again feature Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair tournaments played side by side before each discipline is afforded its own stand-alone World Cup.
The next Wheelchair World Cup, after 2026, will be staged in 2029 – in between the 2028 Women’s World Cup and the 2030
Men’s World Cup.
A bidding process to host one or more of the 2028 Women’s Rugby League World Cup, the 2029 Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup and the 2030 Men’s Rugby League World Cup 2030 has been confirmed and a public invitation to tender (ITT) process will be launched this week.
The deadline to submit bids for RLWC2026 in the Southern Hemisphere has been deferred until 31 March 2024, at the request of the tenderers.
IRL Chair Troy Grant said: “Now that we have a clear view of the International Calendar until 2030, it is important to start the ITT process so that the IRL has plenty of time to secure long term hosts and sponsorships for the game’s pinnacle event.
“The qualification path is also becoming clearer for RLWC2026, and the development of the Regional Championships and World Series will be broadened, and better understood, after consultation with all of our member nations in the confederations.
“The Regional Qualifiers and World Series construct is key for the longer term, so that we have genuine engaged pathways for all nations to realise their ambitions.”
Only IRL full members on March 31, 2024 will be eligible for the Men’s World Cup, while IRL full and affiliate members on March 31, 2024 will be eligible for the Women’s and Wheelchair World Cups.
The IRL Board also agreed that the best position for the Wheelchair World Cup, after 2026, would be in 2029 – between the Women’s and Men’s World Cups – and every four years thereafter.
This decision will enhance IRL intellectual property by ensuring the three flagship World Cups are given equal prominence in consecutive years, increase the attractiveness of IRL commercial sponsorships and provide more high-quality content for the IRL’s broadcast partners.