Details have been confirmed for the 2018 Americas Championship, that will act as a qualifier for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
The University of North Florida, Jacksonville, will host two double-header rounds on 13th and 17th November 2018 to determine which one of the four nations will qualify automatically, and which other has the opportunity to progress through a repechage in 2019.
In the opening games, Canada will face Jamaica and USA take on newcomers Chile, the first South American representatives.
The winners will face each other for the right to qualify or gain a second chance, whilst the losers will also meet in a rankings Test match.
Much of the attention will focus on the appearance of the Chileans, who gained Affiliate status of the Rugby League International Federation earlier this year and where the sport is starting to make rapid strides.
“It has not been an easy path,” said Chile Rugby League president Guillermo Artiaga. “We do not yet receive rugby league on television here, so it has been true fanaticism by players educating themselves on the finer points of the game.
Artiaga continued: “I have had the greatest faith in this project but even I am surprised at how rapidly the sport has spread, particularly in the last two years. We now have two men’s leagues and a women’s league, an entrenchment with many schools and councils and it is 2,000km between our northernmost club and our southernmost.
“We feel solidarity with our surrounding nations in Latin America. Had they not flourished simultaneously, it would not have been possible for us to have the necessary competition to reach this point,” he added. “If we perform strongly at these World Cup qualifiers it will thrust the spotlight on the potential and appetite from this region, not just within Chile.”
RLIF CEO Nigel Wood commented: “This a significant moment for international rugby league with the inclusion of a new continent, South America, in the World Cup qualifiers for the first time. This is the largest Americas qualification competition in history, both in terms of teams and matches.
“The work being done on the ground there is hugely encouraging. The week after the matches in Florida, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia’s men will meet in Sao Paulo, and the first women’s international will also be played there between Brazil and Argentina,” Wood confirmed. “The demand for the sport globally has never been higher.”
The USA has twice hosted qualifiers, winning both to advance to the Rugby League World Cup in 2013 and again in 2017. In 2011, they defeated Jamaica and South Africa in Philadelphia, and in 2015 beat Canada and Jamaica in Jacksonville.
USA Hawks head coach Sean Rutgerson noted: “We have a great record here and this is where we qualified last time. UNF have great facilities and the city of Jacksonville has responded enthusiastically to being named the host city.”