GIVEN the backdrop of Covid and the sounds from Down Under this past few months, Australia and New Zealand’s decision to pull out of the Rugby League World Cup seemed inevitable.

A joint statement from the two nations cited “player welfare and safety concerns” and requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 “to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player well-being.”

It is a bitter blow for the tournament organisers who have worked tirelessly to twist arms and turn stones to secure funding for the showpiece tournament.

The tournament has been financially backed by the Government to the tune of £25m, who want this tournament to go ahead and no doubt show the UK hosting a global event.

That payment is for one month of rugby, probably near about the amount Super League get in TV money for the year. So let that sink in.  

A delay to 2022 would not be the message that those writing the cheques would want to send, particularly as a new date would get lost in the noise of a certain other World Cup.

A joint statement issued by Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, Rugby Football League CEO Ralph Rimmer and Rugby League World Cup CEO Jon Dutton has spelled out that they have not given up.

It reads: "In the best interests of the sport and its millions of fans around the world, we remain open to further discussions with the Australian and New Zealand rugby league authorities about what further reassurances they might need. We remain committed to the tournament and putting on a superb spectacle of sport."

There has been a furious reaction with the Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson describing the decision as “selfish, parochial and cowardly” taken by the Australian and New Zealand leadership.

The 2021 World Cup board members will now have to sit down to discuss their next move – but going ahead without the only two teams that have won it since 1972 does not seem credible.

It would be like the Super League taking place without Saints, Wigan and Leeds – and hailing the new name on the trophy at Old Trafford.

So what are the options away from deferral until 2022?

The Kangaroos and Kiwis could cobble a team based on those players already here in the UK or willing to travel.

It would not be the first time the Australians will have been weakened – in 1995 during the ARL/Super League war – the Green and Golds beat England in the final at Wembley by drawing on only one half of their pool of players.

For a tournament that is deciding the World Champions – this approach would be a lose-lose. If England won it would be hollow, but if Team Australia won it would be embarrassing.

And it would not be a true international – the players and fans would not be hoodwinked into thinking of it any other way.

Then there is a suggestion that some Aussies and Kiwis could switch allegiance to Italy, Lebanon, Fiji or Tonga.

Again, would that undermine ‘international’ sport even further by making countries just flags of convenience. Why not play as Reds, Blues, Greens and Blacks if that is the case?

And even before we get to that point, if NRL clubs don’t want their players coming to represent Australia and New Zealand, are they really likely to send their Tongan, Fijian and Samoan stars off to the Old Dart with their good wishes, even if the players themselves would love nothing more to represent their island nations.

So as much as it seems a no-brainer to postpone, until the Aussies and Kiwis are ready to come, it is not that simple and the Government will undoubtedly want what it has paid for.

We have seen the buy-in to international sport during the Euro 2020. Obviously, football is much bigger with a broader geographical appeal, but was scope to add to that feelgood bounce.

The UK Government, which sees the £25million investment in the tournament as part of its levelling up/Northern Powerhouse agenda, will have plenty to say on the timing.

What would happen to the grants being distributed to towns and clubs as part of the legacy project, funds that are matched by local authorities?

Then there is the broadcaster – with terrestrial TV giving the sport the oxygen of publicity that it badly needs to survive and thrive. There a commitment in the autumn by the BBC to broadcast all 61 games across the men's, women's and wheelchair competitions – would those slots still be free and available in 2022?

After all, it won’t be the only show in town, and it would have to wedged in between the end of Super League/NRL season and the start of the FIFA World Cup taking place in Qatar from November 21 to December 18.

If it was postponed, Super League would have to start earlier to get done earlier – and we risk another domestic season of crippling back-to-back fixtures.

But this could be an opportunity – albeit with a pitfall.

Old Trafford is booked for the World Cup on November 27. Why not scrap the current ridiculously crowded Super League schedule and extend the season and have the Grand Final on that later date.

There are obviously issues with that. Next year’s Super League will have to start early to finish early for the delayed World Cup, and that would give players minimal off season to prepare for another gruelling campaign.

But would they sacrifice that for a more reasonable run in that gives teams a chance to complete fixtures and an opportunity to try and get paying spectators into the ground.

Next week will see even more arms twisted - but it seems unlikely that simply name calling will bring them back on board for the autumn.