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Rugby League World Cup expands to 16 teams for 2021 edition

The Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) has confirmed that it is to increase the number of teams participating in its 2021 World Cup from 14 to 16 nations.

The national team tournament will feature four pools of four teams in order to accommodate the additional participating nations. The RLIF confirmed that the 2021 Women’s World Cup will also be expanded from four to six teams.

“The growth of rugby league internationally is reflected in the expansion of the tournament to four pools of four,” RLIF chief executive David Collier said. “The strength of the 2017 World Cup qualifiers to date, across the continents, has shown a significant increase in playing standard and quality and the newly adopted international calendar will ensure that teams will have a minimum of 15 months prior to the 2021 event to stake their claim.”

Last month, the RLIF confirmed that it had formalised the process for awarding hosting rights to the 2021 World Cup by setting a deadline of the end of June for bids to stage the sport’s showpiece national team competition. A winning bid is expected to be chosen during the fourth quarter of this year.

The Rugby Football League (RFL) in November welcomed a statement from UK Chancellor George Osborne that the government would back a bid for the 2021 World Cup. In April of last year, UAE Rugby League president Sol Mokdad said the country would also target a bid for the tournament.

Collier added: “The World Cup is the pinnacle and we are already receiving expressions of interest to run the 2021 events in world class facilities, to provide the players and supporters with the highest possible experience

“Bids are due to be returned to the RLIF by the end of June – and we are anticipating and encouraging more nations to apply – and the hosts will be announced by the end of 2016.”

The RLIF announced in February 2014 that Australia and New Zealand would co-host the 2017 World Cup, with the joint bid chosen over a rival pitch from South Africa. Papua New Guinea was granted hosting rights to three pool stage games in October.

More than 450,000 fans attended the 2013 World Cup, in which 14 nations competed in 21 venues across the UK.