Now the 2022 schedule of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup is out and all the nations have confirmed they're in, it's finally time to properly plan for the tournament.
The organisers are promising a bigger and better tournament. I'm just excited to be getting the tournament, with so many of the key games and dates being unchanged.
Not everyone is a fan of the northern dominance to the host venues of the tournament. Sure, there might be hypothetical missed opportunities for supporting growth or expansion of the sport. But I'm not exactly sure that is what the sport needs from this tournament. This tournament needs, as much as anything else, to rekindle some lapsed or disengaged fans and reignite an accessible and available fanbase. The funding support for the community game from the northern dominant tournament will create more strength and legacy for the sport than a game or two in potential growth areas, this time around, in my view.
The other thing a northern dominant base for the tournament creates is a chance to get to lots and lots of games for those rugby league fans that still believe. And that's what this is about. Me making my plans for the tournament that I'd already spent hundreds of pounds on tickets for over 12 months ago.
Week 1 - Men's Round 1
Saturday 15 October 2:30pm - Group A Men - England v Samoa - St James' Park, Newcastle
Saturday 15 October 7:30pm - Group B Men - Australia v Fiji - Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Sunday 16 October 2:30pm - Group B Men - Scotland v Italy - Kingston Park, Newcastle
Sunday 16 October 5pm - Group C Men - Jamaica v Ireland- Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Sunday 16 October 7:30pm - Group C Men - New Zealand v Lebanon - Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Monday 17 October 7:30pm - Group A Men - France v Greece - Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Tuesday 18 October 7:30pm - Group D Men - Tonga v Papua New Guinea - TW Stadium, St Helens
Wednesday 19 October 7:30pm - Group D Men - Wales v Cook Islands - LSV, Leigh
In theory, you could get to 7 of the 8 games in Week 1. It's a 2 hour drive from Newcastle to Leeds and a 3 hour drive from Newcastle to Warrington. So you could miss just the Jamaica v Ireland game if you're really committed. Personally, I have no holiday leave booked for Week 1. So I'm in Newcastle for the opening England & Scotland games, then I've got tickets to the two midweek north-west games. I've already booked a hotel for Newcastle. I've gone for the money saving option of out of the city, near the airport and Kingston Park. A metro in on the Saturday and a taxi back won't cost the difference it was to book in the city centre! By the end of Week 1, I'll have been able to see half the men's competition teams in person. It's a shame to be missing Jamaica v Ireland, as I think that will be competitive, entertaining and vibrant fixture.
Week 2 - Men's Round 2
Friday 21 October 7:30pm - Group B Men - Australia v Scotland - Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry
Saturday 22 October 2:30pm - Group B Men - Fiji v Italy - Kingston Park, Newcastle
Saturday 22 October 5pm - Group A Men - England v France - University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton
Saturday 22 October 7:30pm - Group C Men - New Zealand v Jamaica - MKM Stadium, Hull
Sunday 23 October 2:30pm - Group C Men - Lebanon v Ireland - LSV, Leigh
Sunday 23 October 5pm - Group A Men - Samoa v Greece - Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Monday 24 October, 7:30pm - Group D Men - Tonga v Wales - TW Stadium, St Helens
Tuesday 25 October, 7:30pm - Group D Men - Papua New Guinea v Cook Islands - Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Week 2 is a bit more geographically spread out, with games in the Midlands, North East, North West, East Riding of Yorkshire and South Yorkshire. And I don't have any time booked off work that week either. So it'll be a couple of games live and the rest on the sofa for me. A fully committed World Cup fan could just about do two of the three Saturday games, if they forego the England game - it's 2 and a half hours from Newcastle to Hull to see the Fiji and New Zealand games. It isn't possible to do both Sunday games though, so the most games you can get to live in Week 2 would be 7 of 9. I'll be up to seeing 11 of the 16 men's teams by this point. I'm not entirely ruling out going to the Tonga or PNG midweek games here, but I've not booked tickets for them yet.
Week 3 - Men's Round 3 & Women's Round 1 & Wheelchair Round 1
Friday 28 October 7:30pm - Group C Men - New Zealand v Ireland - Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Saturday 29 October 2:30pm - Group A Men - England v Greece - Bramall Lane, Sheffield
Saturday 29 October 5pm - Group B Men - Fiji v Scotland - Kingston Park, Newcastle
Saturday 29 October 7:30pm - Group B Men - Australia v Italy - TW Stadium, St Helens
Sunday 30 October 12pm - Group C Men - Lebanon v Jamaica - LSV, Leigh
Sunday 30 October 2:30pm - Group D Men - Tonga v Cook Islands - Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
Sunday 30 October 5pm - Group A Men - Samoa v France - Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Monday 31 October 7:30pm - Group D Men - Papua New Guinea v Wales - Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Tuesday 1 November 2:30pm - Group A Women - England v Brazil - Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Tuesday 1 November 5pm - Group A Women - Papua New Guinea v Canada - Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Wednesday 2 November 5pm - Group B Women - New Zealand v France - LNER Community Stadium, York
Wednesday 2 November 7:30pm - Group B Women - Australia v Cook Islands - LNER Community Stadium, York
Thursday 3 November 5pm - Group A Wheelchair - Spain v Norway - Copper Box Arena, London
Thursday 3 November 7:30pm - Group A Wheelchair - England v Australia - Copper Box Arena, London
Week 3 is when things really get busy, with all three competitions being up and running. With three double-headers, it offers a great opportunity and value for money to get plenty of games in. I'm missing this England fixture as the travel doesn't quite feel worth it for what I expect to be a very one-sided match. Taking in two of the three Saturday matches is possible though as you can get from Sheffield to St Helens in just under 2 hours. It's also super possible to do two of the three Sunday games too, which is what I intend doing with the short half an hour or so trip from Leigh to Warrington. Jamaica, in the first of those games, are the 12th of 16 Men's side I've got tickets to see. I feel a little disappointed to miss out on Wales v PNG, as I think that should be a good game in Doncaster, but I've got a bit of travel already planned in for the week and that would be a trip too far I think. I'm really excited for the Women's double-header at Leeds on the Tuesday and I've got the time off work for it. I've got a basic room booked in a hotel near Headingley, as I'm off to York for the Wednesday games. That means I'll have seen all the Women's sides in two days for the total ticket price of £20. With the fairly late finish on the Wednesday night, I've booked another basic room in York for after that double-header. Then I'll try and catch the opening Wheelchair games on TV from my hotel in Sheffield ahead of the early and busy start to Week 4.
Week 4 - Men's Quarter-Finals & Women's Round 2 & Wheelchair Rounds 1, 2 & 3
Friday 4 November 11am - Group B Wheelchair - France v Wales - EIS, Sheffield
Friday 4 November 1:30pm - Group B Wheelchair - Scotland v USA - EIS, Sheffield
Friday 4 November 7:30pm - Men's Quarter-Final - Group B Winner v Group C Runner-up - John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
Saturday 5 November 12pm - Group A Women - England v Canada - DW Stadium, Wigan
Saturday 5 November 2:30pm - Men's Quarter-Final - Group A Winner v Group D Runner-up - DW Stadium, Wigan
Saturday 5 November 5pm - Group A Women - Papua New Guinea v Brazil - MKM Stadium, Hull
Saturday 5 November 7:30pm - Men's Quarter-Final - Group C Winner v Group B Runner-Up - MKM Stadium, Hull
Sunday 6 November 12pm - Group A Wheelchair - England v Spain - Copper Box Arena, London
Sunday 6 November 2:30pm - Group A Wheelchair - Australia v Norway - Copper Box Arena, London
Sunday 6 November 2:30pm - Men's Quarter- Final - Group D Winner v Group A Runner-up - University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton
Sunday 6 November 5pm - Group B Women - New Zealand v Cook Islands - LNER Community Stadium, York
Sunday 6 November 7:30pm - Group B Women - Australia v France - LNER Community Stadium, York
Monday 7 November 5pm - Group B Wheelchair - France v Scotland - EIS, Sheffield
Monday 7 November 7:30pm - Group B Wheelchair - Wales v USA - EIS, Sheffield
Wednesday 9 November 11am - Group A Wheelchair - Australia v Spain - Copper Box Arena, London
Wednesday 9 November 1:30pm - Group A Wheelchair - England v Norway - Copper Box Arena, London
Wednesday 9 November 5pm - Group A Women - Canada v Brazil - Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Wednesday 9 November 7:30pm - Group A Women - England v Papua New Guinea - Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Thursday 10 November 11am - Group B Wheelchair - France v USA - EIS, Sheffield
Thursday 10 November 1:30am - Group B Wheelchair - Wales v Scotland - EIS, Sheffield
Thursday 10 November 5pm - Group B Women - France v Cook Islands - LNER Community Stadium, York
Thursday 10 November 7:30pm - Group B Women - Australia v New Zealand - LNER Community Stadium, York
What the early start in Sheffield means is that fans can easily take in that action and get over to Huddersfield for the first of the Men's quarter-finals in the evening. And that's exactly what I'll be doing. The Group B Winner is almost certainly going to be Australia, so that ticks off another Men's side for me to have seen, against either Lebanon or Ireland probably. Saturday should be good too, with England's Women and fingers-crossed England's Men playing a double-header. The likelihood is it will be England v PNG in the Men's game. Admittedly, Wigan isn't as glamourous as Anfield, but at least we'll all have better leg room for watching two games with. It's impossible to do all four games on the Saturday, but at least each side of the Pennines gets a double-header. The Men's game at Hull will probably be New Zealand v Fiji, with Fiji aiming to repeat the upset at the same stage at the last tournament. If England don't top their group then they will be at Bolton on the Sunday, where they would likely face Tonga as Group D winners - or it could be the equally mouth-watering match-up of Tonga v Samoa. You can't be everywhere at once on the Sunday, with Wheelchair action in London and Women's action in York. Actually, Sunday has the only genuine clash, between that Men's Quarter-final and the second Wheelchair game in London between Australia and Norway. After having the week off before, I only have the Wednesday off this week for the Women's double-header at Headingley, so there will be no long trips to London, Sheffield or York for me unfortunately. But, if you were able to get the miles in on the Thursday, you could feasibly treat yourself to a double-header of Wheelchair in Sheffield, a 1 hour dart up the M1 & A64, then a double-header of Women's action in York, including the hotly anticipated Australia v New Zealand game.
Week 5 - Semi-finals
Friday 11 November 7:45pm - Men's Semi-final - QF Winner v QF Winner - Elland Road, Leeds
Saturday 12 November 2:30pm - Men's Semi-final - QF Winner v QF Winner - The Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday 13 November 12pm - Wheelchair Semi-final - Group B Winner v Group A Runner-up - EIS, Sheffield
Sunday 13 November 2:30pm - Wheelchair Semi-final - Group A Winner v Group B Runner-up - EIS, Sheffield
Monday 14 November 5pm - Women's Semi-final - Group B Winner v Group A Runner-up - LNER Community Stadium, York
Monday 14 November 7:30pm - Women's Semi-final - Group A Winner v Group B Runner-up - LNER Community Stadium, York
Thinks heat up and quiet down at the same time in Week 5. Should England get through this far, they will be playing in London in the first Rugby League game at The Emirates, which is exciting - both sides of the North London Derby will have hosted Rugby League in 2022, with the Challenge Cup Final at Spurs' stadium. That will be my longest single day of travelling in the tournament, so I'm planning on taking the other games in on TV, but may find myself at Elland Road yet on the Friday night. I think it'll be Australia against New Zealand or Fiji in Leeds, and probably England v Tonga in London, but I must admit I'm not sure how the Men's draw works at this stage. Sheffield and York trips will be out for me sadly this time around. But the great news for those with more freedom of travel and wallet is that you can see all the semi-finals without any clashes or mad motorway dashes. My expectations a year out are that France will play Australia in Wheelchair semi 1 and England will play Wales in the semi 2. Then probably Australia, but maybe New Zealand, will face PNG, with England facing probably New Zealand, but maybe Australia, in the Women's semis.
Week 6 - Finals
Friday 18 November 7:30pm - Wheelchair Final - Manchester Central, Manchester
Saturday 19 November 1:15pm - Women's Final - Old Trafford, Manchester
Saturday 19 November 4pm - Men's Final - Old Trafford, Manchester
I personally think the enforced move of having all the finals in the same city is a big plus for selling the events. Plus, I find Manchester Central more accessible travel-wise than Liverpool's Arena. It made the decision for me to get tickets now for that match. Here's hoping we can see England in all three finals. It would be absolute dreamland to think we could win all three, but if we can win at least one I'd take that!
All in all, I'm ticketed up for 24 matches at 15 different venues. I'm guaranteed to be seeing 24 of the 32 teams involved across the three tournaments, and should see two or three more at least through the knock-out stages.
That's my World Cup plans shaping up a year out from knowing who has won them all. How are your's looking? Let us know!