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Rugby League WCup boss going Down Under to soothe any nerves

November 19, 2021 GMT

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Rugby League World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton will go to Australia in January to reassure NRL clubs of any doubts about the postponed tournament in the coronavirus pandemic.

NRL clubs are believed to be behind the decision by Australia and New Zealand to withdraw from the World Cup in England citing virus concerns.

Their decision forced organizers to push back the tournament by a year to late 2022 and renegotiate 170 contracts with sponsors and partners. There was much friction at the time, with English league chairman Simon Johnson branding Australia and New Zealand “selfish, parochial and cowardly,” but Dutton says any rift has been healed.

“We’ve had what I would describe as positive, conciliatory conversations,” Dutton said on Friday. “They did not want to play this year but they want to play next year.

“It’s important for me to go to Australia and meet every club and chief executive. I’m targeting 50 meetings while I’m over there and doing what we couldn’t do over the past few months.

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“Them signing the (participation) agreements adds more confidence. For all of us now, we can stop spending our time reflecting and we can go back to using the word ‘opportunity.’”

Organizers say they have not lost any commercial partners as a result of the delay and Dutton believes the extra time has enabled them to raise their expectations.

The initial aim was to sell 750,000 tickets for the 61 matches across the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events and Dutton is targeting an aggregate 70,000 crowd for the two opening-day games featuring England and Australia.

Australia’s group opener with Fiji on Oct. 15 — 13 days after the NRL grand final — has been moved from Hull to Leeds in one of five changes organizers have had to make to the original schedule.

Hull, instead of Leeds, will host New Zealand’s game with Jamaica on Oct. 22.

Wigan Athletic Stadium, left off the original list, will host one of the men’s quarterfinals as well as the women’s group game between England and Canada on Nov. 5, instead of Anfield, which became unavailable.

The wheelchair final on Nov. 18 was moved from Liverpool to Manchester, meaning Manchester will be the venue for all three finals. Old Trafford hosts men’s and women’s doubleheader finals on Nov. 19.

The five-week tournament will kick off as planned at St James’ Park, Newcastle, on Oct. 15 with the opening ceremony, followed by hosts England taking on Samoa.

Dutton confirmed the tournament will not put in place a mandatory vaccination policy for players.

“We’ll liaise with our colleagues in the NRL,” he said. “What we’ll put in place is what other people would expect. The vaccination rates both here and Australia are heartening. We’ll adhere to whatever Public Health England rules are in place.”

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