RLPA at odds with NRL over World Cup

Rugby League Players Association boss Clint Newtown Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The Rugby League Players Association has hit out at the ARL Commission over Australia's withdrawal from the World Cup, claiming it was premature and players weren't consulted.

Players and the NRL remain on a collision course with Australia and New Zealand's exits due to COVID-19 drawing harsh criticism from global officials.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary on Friday morning became the first NRL figure to say he does not want his players heading to the tournament at all, even for tier-two nations.

But the RLPA on Friday insisted NRL players should still be able to run out for other countries, angry that Australian and New Zealand stars weren't given the same chance.

"Clearly, the views of those players have not been enough to prevent this decision and we believe it has been made prematurely," RLPA CEO Clint Newton said.

"We have worked closely with Rugby League World Cup staff for some time now and we are committed to continuing those discussions regarding player health and safety protocols.

"We have an obligation to advocate on behalf of all players to secure the best possible terms and conditions for the tournament, and this remains ongoing.

"For players representing remaining participating Nations, our priority will be to help ensure appropriate health and safety measures are in place, and also provide them with the relevant information to make an informed decision about participation.

"We had anticipated that players from Australia and New Zealand would have that same opportunity, which has unfortunately been taken away from them with last night's decision."

Australia and New Zealand's preference is for the tournament to be postponed to next year, however that could be met with several difficulties.

The UK Government has chipped in significant funding, and it's understood they want the competition to go ahead in 2021.

Senior UK ministers were among those to criticise Australia over the decision, with the Kangaroos and Kiwis withdrawals front and back page news in England.

Next year's FIFA World Cup is also being run at the end of the year, creating a nightmare for organisers to try and gain any traction in the country.

Organisers were on Thursday night hopeful several front-line players would want to run out for countries of their heritage.

Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai has Samoan heritage as does Brian To'o, while Stephen Crichton, Apisai Koroisau and Viliame Kikau are among others at the club eligible for Pacific nations.

"I wouldn't be comfortable (with them playing)," Cleary said.

"I think the ARL, the NRL and the NZRL have made a really brave but smart decision in this instance.

"I know there's so many ramifications for the organising committee and even the international rugby league, it's a really difficult situation.

"The financial element and the amount of money that the UK government has given to this event, it must be extremely difficult and very sensitive.

"But in terms of player welfare there's too many risks and all things considered I think the right decision has been made."