RLWC2021: England’s Sam Tomkins questions ‘strange timing’ of Australia and New Zealand’s withdrawals

Sam Tomkins has questioned the timing of Australia and New Zealand’s decision to withdraw from competing at this year’s Rugby League World Cup.

Reigning champions Australia and 2008 winners New Zealand issued a joint statement on Thursday announcing they would be not be playing at the tournament, which is due to kick off on October 23 and sees the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events being played alongside each other, due to concerns over Covid-19.

News of the withdrawals came barely a week after organisers confirmed RLWC2021 was going ahead as planned and, speaking to Sky Sports News, England international Tomkins questioned why this decision had been taken with three months still to go before the start of the World Cup.

“It wasn’t too long ago we were promoting it and saying it was definitely on, and I know that gave a huge boost to a lot of people,” Tomkins, captain for England’s recent match against the Combined Nations All Stars, said. “It seems a little bit strange timing, really.

“The Covid situation is changing all the time and to decide in July they’re not coming in a few months’ time seems strange, especially when other athletes from those countries are coming for other sports.”

This year’s World Cup coincides with when the Australia rugby union team are due to be touring the UK for Test matches against England, Wales and Scotland, while New Zealand are due to face Ireland, Wales and France this autumn too.

Both nations have sent hundreds of athletes to the Olympic Games in Tokyo too, with those now taking place behind closed doors due to concerns over rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in Japan.

Meanwhile, Betfred Super League interim chairman Ken Davy has reiterated the competition’s support for this year’s Rugby League World Cup, expressing his surprise and sadness at the decision from two of the sport’s powerhouse nations.

“The organisers have done everything possible to provide both nations with strong evidence of the robust protocols and procedures to keep players safe,” Davy said in a statement.

“It is quite astounding that athletes from Australia and New Zealand are about to compete in the Olympics, in addition to the Australian and New Zealand rugby union teams being in the UK this Autumn, yet their rugby league counterparts have decided to withdraw.

“The UK has already shown that it can successfully deliver a major international event in EURO 2020, under far stricter conditions to those anticipated in the Autumn.

“We are fully behind [tournament chief executive] Jon Dutton and his RLWC2021 team. We continue to offer Super League’s utmost support to the tournament organisers given the significant benefits this event can deliver for the sport.”

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