ORGANISERS of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup have confirmed the tournament will go ahead as planned and remain confident Australia will be in England to defend their trophy.

The event, which due to see eight women's games, including the both semi-finals, held at the LNER Community Stadium, had been in doubt due to resistance from Australia’s NRL clubs concerned over travel and quarantine restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Tournament chief executive Jon Dutton admitted at a news conference that Australia have yet to sign the participation agreement and Troy Grant, chairman of the International Rugby League, revealed officials have identified potential replacements in the event of any teams withdrawing.

But Dutton says organisers have put a team in place in Sydney in an effort to get a deal over the line.

“We do expect all 21 nations to come to the UK,” he said. “We met with all of them earlier in the week. We appreciate there are still some challenges for us to work through.

“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 the tournament.

“It’s really important for us to take away the uncertainty and to build confidence.”

The tournament will kick off on October 23 when England face Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park, the first of 61 matches across the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions.

Grant said: “The World Cup going ahead this year is critical. There was no international rugby league in 2020 and it was sorely missed.

“If it didn’t happen there could be immense damage to the reputation of the international game.”

Half of the 16 men’s teams will come from the southern hemisphere and Dutton confirmed his organisation will foot the bill for charter flights to bring the 400-plus players and officials from Australia as well as ensuring other bio-security measures are put in place.

Dutton had delayed a final decision over the last three months and admitted he had passed the point of no return.

“Today (Thursday) marks 100 days to go and we believe this is the right moment to take away any remaining uncertainty,” said the chief executive, who confirmed he had considered both a postponement and a cancellation.

“We have got great momentum and there is a resounding desire from UK Government as part of the reopening and rebuilding of confidence here in the UK for the tournament to go ahead.

“We have seen how incredible the football European Championships were and we’re now seeing international athletes travel all over the world in a safe environment to play their sports.

“This tournament is bigger than sport and bigger than rugby league, this is our moment to shine.”

Dutton says vaccination for players will not be made mandatory but there are plans for a testing regime and a hybrid bio-secure bubble and he says some of the restrictions set to be lifted next Monday - like social distancing and face masks - will be retained.

"We need to create a balance between a life experience and player safety," added Dutton, who began preparing for the tournament more than five years ago.

"I think the additional measures we need to put in place are small and I am very confident we can do that over the next few weeks."