Rugby League: NZ Kiwis withdraw from Rugby League World Cup

NZ Rugby League has withdrawn its men from the Rugby League World Cup, scheduled for England in October.

NZRL boss Greg Peters has told Newshub that while it's with huge regret, player safety and welfare is paramount.

Given the COVID-19 situation in the UK, Peters doesn't believe the processes and procedures are up to the necessary standard, and wants players to be as safe as possible.

"Our primary concern is the safety of our people on the ground in the UK, and also the ability to repatriate them to both Australia and New Zealand after the World Cup," Peters tells Newshub.

"You've seen what's happened in Australia recently, with the exposure to cases there and the insecurity of the trans-Tasman bubble. All of those things add up to a situation that's a step too far for us to take this year, unfortunately."

The decision comes just days after Kiwis captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak expressed his doubts over the tournament proceeding, despite organisers' assurances that it would go ahead.

"To be honest, I can't see it this year going ahead, just because of not only football, but the way the world is going at the moment," he said this week. 

"It's pretty crazy times and football should be the last thing on people's minds."

Earlier this month, organisers gave the 'green light' to the tournament, trying to confirm attendance from rugby league's international stakeholders.

But Peters admitted the Kiwis and Australia Kangaroos still had major concerns.

"There's still some way to satisfying us that our people will be as safe as possible in a pandemic," he said.

Peters believed England biosecurity measures were too lose.

"What's acceptable in the UK at the moment is not acceptable in Australia or New Zealand," he said. "We need to be satisfied that they have the correct procedures and protocols in place.

"We're in regular dialogue with players and there's a number of differing views."

Kiwis half Kodi Nikorima got the ball rolling last month, confirming he wasn't interested in attending the World Cup.

"We've been speaking a lot to our players over the last little while, as you'd expect," says Peters. 

"There's certainly a good body of players who'd be prepared to quarantine, and also a number of people who - because of personal choice - will choose not to take the vaccine amongst our group.

"That's a massive concern to us as a national sports organisation, sending people into an environment in the northern hemisphere where we couldn't guarantee their safety."

Newshub understands NZ Rugby League is working on scheduling alternative fixtures with other teams poised to withdraw.