Rugby league Ashes to return, as World Cup moves to 2026

Mal Meninga's Kangaroos will host England in an Ashes series in 2025 followed by the 2026 World Cup.

Mal Meninga's Kangaroos will host England in an Ashes series in 2025 followed by the 2026 World Cup. Photo: AAP

Rugby league’s Ashes series will be rekindled as part of a revamped international calendar culminating in a rescheduled and reduced World Cup in the southern hemisphere in 2026.

The International Rugby League (IRL) announced its most significant development in recent memory at its annual congress in Singapore on Thursday, finally rewarding the game’s often-overlooked international with a long-term calendar.

The most substantial of those announcements surrounds the World Cup, which was due to be held in France in 2025 until the French government reneged on hosting.

The tournament will now take place in 2026 in the southern hemisphere with the men’s component of the competition reduced from 16 to 10 teams.

The quarter-finalists from last year’s tournament in the UK – Australia, Samoa, New Zealand, England, Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Lebanon – will qualify automatically, with the remaining two spots fought out through qualifying.

“The IRL board has made these decisions to create more compelling content and secure the financial future of the international game,” IRL chair Troy Grant said.

“The cancellation of France 2025 has given us an opportunity to refresh the structure of the World Cup and associated tournaments as part of a long-term international calendar that all in the game have been desperately seeking.

“The Rugby League World Cup is the pinnacle of our sport and an elite tournament that all nations should aspire to take part in.”

The Kangaroos and Jillaroos, who won last year’s men’s and women’s tournaments, will also usher in the return of the Ashes series 12 months earlier when they host England in 2025.

The Ashes have not been contested since the 2003 series when Australia defeated Great Britain.

The Kangaroos will travel to the UK for an Ashes tour in 2028, while New Zealand will also head north in 2027.

The IRL said tournaments would also take place in the years between World Cups, with Australia expected to face New Zealand and Samoa in a yet-be-announced three-way series after the current NRL season.

The women’s World Cup will remain at eight teams and will move into a standalone quadrennial cycle after 2028, when a second World Cup in the space of two years will take place.

A similar decision on the wheelchair World Cup will take place after the 2026 tournament.

Key IRL calendar dates

2023 – Post NRL-season tri-series between Australia, New Zealand and Samoa, Tonga tour UK

2025 – England’s men’s and women’s teams to contest the Ashes in Australia

2026 – Men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cup in the southern hemisphere

2027 – New Zealand Kiwis to tour England

2028 – Kangaroos contest the Ashes in England, Women’s World Cup

2030 – Men’s World Cup

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