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Australia's Johnathan Thurston kicks a penalty during the rugby league Four Nations final match between Australia and New Zealand on Nov. 20, 2016. Rugby league is the 13-man version of the game that’s most popular in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, but will test the waters in Canada in 2017. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)
Australia's Johnathan Thurston kicks a penalty during the rugby league Four Nations final match between Australia and New Zealand on Nov. 20, 2016. Rugby league is the 13-man version of the game that’s most popular in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, but will test the waters in Canada in 2017. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada, United States to host 2025 Rugby League World Cup Add to ...

Pro rugby league is coming to Canada next year in the form of the Toronto Wolfpack. And the sport’s best will converge on North America in 2025 for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.

The decision to take the world championship to Canada and the United States was made at the annual congress of the Rugby League International Federation in Liverpool, England.

“The award of the 2025 World Cup to North America is a historic moment in the global development of rugby league,” RLIF chairman Nigel Wood said in a statement. “The U.S.A. and Canada provides world-class stadia allied to a significant multicultural population which made the bid so persuasive.”

Rugby league is the 13-man version of the game, as opposed to 15-man rugby union which is more popular around the globe. Rugby league is most popular in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, but will test the waters in Canada in 2017 when the Wolfpack open transatlantic play in the third tier of English pro rugby league.

Rugby league is a physical hard-hitting game that has proved influential on its sister code in recent years, with rugby league defence and running patterns drifting into rugby union.

The sport is relatively new to Canada but Paul O’Keefe, president of the Canada Rugby League Association, says there is interest. International games have drawn 7,000 people at Toronto’s Lamport Stadium.

“It’s a growing sport,” O’Keefe said. “It’s fast. There’s lots of big hits. … It looks very similar to hockey here in Canada. That’s why I think Canadians will love the sport the more they get to see that. And there’s only one way to do that – by bringing the best international teams in the world to Canada and bringing the top-line players to Canada.”

“This tournament is certainly going to help us showcase rugby league here in Canada.”

The original North American bid was for the 2021 tournament, which was subsequently awarded to England. The bid started as American-only, but Canada was eventually added.

O’Keefe says the successful 2025 bid is proof the sport’s world governing body wants to take rugby league to a new audience.

“It was worth the chance to do it in 2025, plus it gives us a bit more time to really organize, to make sure it’s a really fantastic event,” O’Keefe said.

Australia has dominated the Rugby League World Cup, winning 10 times since the tournament began in 1954. Britain has won three times while New Zealand lifted the trophy once The Australians won the last tournament, in 2013 in England and Wales. The 2017 tournament, featuring 14 teams, is slated for Australia and New Zealand with – for the first time – a companion women’s competition that features Canada.

The Canadian women have been drawn in Pool B with New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Pool A consists of Australia, England and the Cook Islands.

As for the men, the tournament will expand to 16 teams for 2021 with Canada attempting to qualify. There is no word yet on the number of teams for 2025, but Canada and the United States will get in as host teams.

The Canadian men were beaten by the United States in their bid to make the 2017 World Cup.

The North American bid is in conjunction with Moore Sports International, an Australian-based sports marketing and event-management company.

O’Keefe says while host cities have yet to be determined, he expects “a minimum of two and hopefully three” in Canada. Toronto and Vancouver would be likely candidates, with Alberta also in the mix.

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