WORLD Cup ambassador Jodie Cunningham believes St Helens will reap the benefit of being a host town in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.

While the town staged matches at the Totally Wicked Stadium when the tournament was staged in England, Wales and France seven years ago, St Helens did not have one of the national teams residing locally for the duration of their involvement like neighbouring Warrington, Widnes and Leigh did.

But to have Tonga, the rising force in international rugby league, based in St Helens for next year’s event is being seen as a coup, while having Italy in town too is the icing on the cake.

“That semi-final game between Tonga and England is something that sticks in everyone’s memory from the 2017 World Cup held in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea,” said Saints and England Women star Cunningham, 28, who is the community engagement lead in the 2021 organising team.

“The way the fans came in numbers to support that game it was like a sea of red. I can imagine for the English players that must have been quite intimidating but absolutely amazing as well to play in that sort of atmosphere.

“It would be great if we could get quite a few Tongan fans over with the passion they bring.

“Having Tonga, a fantastic nation , a really proud rugby league nation, will bring a lot to St Helens and I’m sure they’ll be well involved in all the Rugby League World Cup community activities that will take place so it’ll be really exciting.

“Before being part of the administrative side of the World Cup, I probably did not appreciate how big a thing it was to have a team based where you are.

“I think that’s to do with the access that people have to the rugby league players.

“It’s a credit to the sport that our elite athletes are so accessible and when different towns and cities have a nation base it means they have access for some of the community activity they do.

“It just generates that added excitement throughout different environments, such as club and school visits and other town events that they might get involved in.

“It really is a privilege for many of the hosts to be able to have some of the nations based there and allow them to be engulfed in the cultures we have in our different towns and cities, and St Helens is obviously a really big rugby league town and really proud of its roots so we’ll be able to spread some of that through to Tonga and Italy as well which is really great.

“With some of the smaller hosting towns and cities, where they are predominantly rugby league rather than the likes of Liverpool and Manchester with big footballing sides, I think having a Rugby League World Cup means that they get additional opportunities they wouldn’t get with other major sporting events because they don’t necessarily have a huge team in that particular sport.

“So for the likes of St Helens I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to really show pride in the town and really get behind what is going to be a huge major sporting event and an opportunity to bring people to the town and show what they’re about.”