JON Dutton believes next year’s Rugby League World Cup may have some blowout scores – but that can be a good thing.
The full schedule for next year’s tournament was revealed yesterday as it grows to a 16-team competition.
It pits giants New Zealand against minnows Jamaica, Samoa against newcomers Greece and the Cook Islands against new world powerhouse Tonga.
But World Cup chief executive Dutton – who believes Toronto Wolfpack’s demise in Super League will not effect that tournament – believes one-sided scorelines can help in the long-term.
He said: “Will there be uneven games? Yes there will be. Is it the right thing to do in terms of moving the maturity of the tournament? Absolutely.
“Will there be big scorelines? There will be but what you’ll then find is a strong quarter-finals and that’s the benchmark of the health and wellbeing of a tournament.
“We felt like the tournament has to take a step towards maturity. The Rugby Union World Cup has group matches with one-sided games and we looked at other tournaments.”
Other highlights see defending champions Australia take on Fiji in a repeat of the 2013 and 2017 semi-finals in Hull before heading to Coventry to face Scotland.
Jamaica, who reached the World Cup for the first time, will play all their group matches in Leeds, where they have been based to connect with the city’s large afro-Caribbean community.
The clash with Ireland looks to pull a big crowd to Headingley – as will the daytime game on Monday, October 25 at Doncaster between fellow newcomers Greece and France during half-term holidays.
And Dutton hopes to send as many people as possible to Coventry on a Friday night as Australia take on Scotland.
He also admits putting Tonga v Cook Islands at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium came after local leaders there made clear their desire to host a Pacific nation in connection with Middlesbrough-born Captain Cook.
He added: “We thought hard about Middlesbrough as the area’s not synonymous with rugby league but we talked to people there to find out what would work best.
“They said a Pacific nation and a big game – with Captain Cook there’s a link and a synergy. The challenge now is to sell out the Riverside Stadium.”
England start the tournament on October 23 by taking on Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park before facing France at Bolton and Greece at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane.
Their quarter-final would be at Anfield and semi-final at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium before the final at Old Trafford.
Wales take on Cook Islands at Leigh, Tonga in St Helens and Papua New Guinea at Doncaster as the home nations look to make the last eight.
But Dutton believes only seeing England make that stage will not harm the World Cup’s credibility.
He said: “The analysis after the 2017 tournament was there was an under-performance, particularly from Wales and Scotland.
“But would only having England there knock its credibility? I don’t think it will as the athletes will decide who qualifies and who gets their hands on the trophy.”
WORLD CUP 2021 HOME NATIONS GAMES
ENGLAND GROUP GAMES: Oct 23 – Samoa (St James’ Park), Oct 30 – France (Bolton), Nov 6 – Greece (Bramall Lane)
WALES GROUP GAMES: Oct 27 – Cook Islands (Leigh), Nov 1 – Tonga (St Helens), Nov 8 – Papua New Guinea (Doncaster)
SCOTLAND GROUP GAMES: Oct 24 – Italy (Kingston Park, Newcastle), Oct 29 – Australia (Coventry), Nov 6 – Fiji (Kingston Park, Newcastle)
IRELAND GROUP GAMES: Oct 24 – Jamaica (Headingley), Oct 31 – Lebanon (Leigh), Nov 5 – New Zealand (Headingley)
FINAL: Nov 27 – Old Trafford
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