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Rugby League World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton insist he is “very confident” that Australia will compete in this autumn’s tournament after formally confirming it will go ahead.

Speculation has surrounded whether the defending champions will travel to England amid concerns over the Covid-19 situation and timescales ahead of the 2022 NRL season. Dutton – having highlighted the completion of Euro 2020 and Wimbledon in England in recent weeks – has acknowledged there is still “work to be done” to verify the Kangaroos’ participation.

But he has pointed to “extremely positive” talks with Australia’s Rugby League Players Association, says a survey of players has shown a desire to compete and is now focused on pushing ahead with the three simultaneous tournaments, which will see matches played at Old Trafford, Anfield and the Emirates Stadium among others.

Dutton said: “We do expect all nations to turn up – we are very confident we will have 21 nations coming to the UK. We met with all of them earlier in the week and appreciate some of the challenges they are going through.

“But there is an incredible appetite for the tournament at this stage. We wanted to take away the uncertainty. From a players, coaches and administrators’ perspective there are still things to work on but the overriding feeling this week has been nothing but positivity.”

England were beaten in the final in 2017
(Image: Getty Images)

Asked specifically about the Kangaroos, Dutton responded: “There is still work to be done and it’s no secret that there’s been lots of speculation about Australia’s participation. We are very confident that Australia will join the other 20 competing nations.

“We acknowledge that there are other challenges ahead, and we have been speaking to Andrew Abdo at the NRL on a regular basis, we’ve met with Peter V’Landys from the ARLC, and we have to recognise the relocation of their competition to Queensland and the relocation of two of the three Origin games this year.

“We’re very respectful of that, but we wouldn’t be making this announcement today if we didn’t have the confidence that those nations would arrive in this country and compete in this tournament.”

The tournament kicks off at Newcastle’s St James’ Park on October 23 with England facing Samoa, and for the first time, the men's, women's and wheelchair events will all take place simultaneously.

Dutton added: “We are delighted to be able to provide clarity and certainty to fans, players, partners, media and those that have supported our journey over the past few years. We have an overwhelming desire to deliver the biggest and best ever Rugby League World Cup and through our determination and decisiveness we will be able to achieve this vision.

“We recognise there are still many challenges ahead, but we will work relentlessly and will take the most extraordinary measures with the support of all involved to stage the tournament in 100 days time.

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“Despite the adversity we have faced, we have never lost sight of our core purpose of making a positive impact on people’s lives. Our social impact programme has and will continue to be a beacon of much needed positivity and hope in communities across England.

“We have no doubt that the rugby league family, along with the 20,021 key workers we have invited, the many fans who will see the action live in the stadiums across England and the millions watching around the world will be part of a unifying celebration of sport and humanity.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “As we reach 100 days to go, the anticipation is building with rugby league’s biggest competition coming back to England.

“After the challenges of the past 18 months where the positive impact of rugby league in communities has shone through, the moment when the men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams take to the pitch will be a watershed moment for both the sport and the country.

“I’m delighted that fans can look forward to a festival of rugby league that promises to inspire new fans and grow the grassroots, and the Government has been pleased to play its part in supporting this incredible inclusive event.”

Troy Grant, chairman of the International Rugby League, added: “I am delighted that all the stakeholders in International Rugby League have worked together to achieve this important outcome for the global game. RLWC2021 has great ambitions which will help grow the interest and participation in our sport across the world.

“We can now all look forward with certainty and excitement to the kick-off of the tournament in Newcastle on 23 October and again I wish to thank all those involved, the organisers, the nations federations and the key stakeholders, for the leadership which has delivered this positive result in the most challenging of situations.”