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Australia claimed the 2017 World Cup.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga believes the involvement of Prince Harry in Thursday's live draw from the 2021 World Cup is proof of the international game's stunning growth.

Up to 10 million followers of the Royal Family and a huge media contingent are set to watch the event taking place at Buckingham Palace. It will be first live draw in the tournament's 67-year history.

There, either Fiji, Papua New Guinea or Samoa will be drawn as England's likely opponents in the opening match of the 2021 World Cup at Newcastle's St James' Park.

With the draw being Prince Harry's first public engagement since the Duke of Sussex and his wife Meghan announced last week that they were stepping back from their positions as senior royals, the event has gained huge publicity in Britain.

Prince Harry and Sean O'Loughlin.
Prince Harry and Sean O'Loughlin. ©photosport.nz

The Sun even used the headline "Ruckingham Palace", while the Daily Mail reported "this engagement will be covered by the usual royal rota".

The 2021 World Cup was already set to be bigger and bolder than previous versions, with 16 men's teams and eight each in the women's and wheelchair tournaments to be run concurrently in England.

For the first time, the top four nations - Australia, New Zealand, England and Tonga - have been allocated different pools and the remaining three teams in each group will be drawn from pots on Thursday (11pm AEST).

"That hasn't happened before," Meninga said. "In 2017, we had England in our pool and New Zealand was in the same pool as Tonga and Samoa so that shows how far the international game has come.

Australia coach Mal Meninga.
Australia coach Mal Meninga. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"To have a member of the Royal family involved is prestigious and speaks volumes about how much rugby league is starting to take off in Europe too."

Meninga and coaches of the other teams, including Australia's Jillaroos and Wheelaroos, will be able to begin preparing with the identity of their opponents known after the draw.

The draws for previous World Cups have been manipulated due to concerns about a lack of competitiveness but the performances of Tonga and Fiji at the 2017 tournament took the international game to a new level, with both nations upsetting the Kiwis.

Tonga beat Australia and Great Britain at the end of last season, while the Kumuls also upset the touring Lions in Port Moresby and New Zealand regained the RLIF's No.1 ranking.

Men's draw

England will kick off the World Cup at St James Park on October 23, 2021 and it is expected that their opponent in the opening game will be whichever Pacific nation from Pot 1 - Fiji, PNG or Samoa - is drawn alongside them in Pool A.

To ensure that each pool represents the rugby league playing world, they must include at least one nation from the Pacific region and one under the jurisdiction of the Rugby League European Federation.

England and New Zeland will enter the World Cup with high hopes.
England and New Zeland will enter the World Cup with high hopes. ©NRL Photos

As a result, Lebanon - the fourth team in Pot 1 - will be excluded from the draw for Group A (England's group) and reintroduced after either Fiji, Samoa or Papua New Guinea is selected.

Australia heads Group B, New Zealand is in Group C and Tonga is in Group D.

One team from each of the following three pots will be added to their pools after the draw:

  • Pot 1: Fiji, Lebanon, PNG, Samoa
  • Pot 2: France, Jamaica, Scotland, Wales 
  • Pot 3: Cook Islands, Greece, Ireland, Italy 

England's other pool matches will be played at Sheffield FC's Bramall Lane and University of Bolton Stadium, while the host nation has also been pencilled in for a quarter-final at Anfield and a semi-final at Arsenal's 60,000 seat Emirates Stadium in north London.

Australia, New Zealand and other men's teams have not yet been allocated venues for their games but the Kangaroos are expected to open their defence of the Paul Barriere Trophy at the Emerald Headingley Stadium.

Assuming all goes to plan for Meninga's men, they would be aiming to play in the semi-final at Elland Road and final at Old Trafford on November 28, which will host the men's and women's deciders as a double-header.

The Jillaroos after beating New Zealand.
The Jillaroos after beating New Zealand. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Women's draw

With England allocated Group A as hosts and Australia in Group B as 2017 World Cup champions, there will be much interest in which pool New Zealand is drawn.

If the Kiwi Ferns are in Group B with the Jillaroos, Papua New Guinea will automatically be placed in Group A and the Orchids would fancy their chances of topping the pool after recently beating England.

One team from each of the following pots will also be allocated to join England in Group A or Australia in Group B:

  • Pot 1: New Zealand, PNG
  • Pot 2: Canada, France
  • Pot 3: Brazil, Cook Islands

The women's World Cup kicks off on November 9, 2021 at Emerald Headingley in Leeds and features matches at Anfield and York, with a minimum four day turnaround in between games for female players.

The 2021 World Cup will be the first in which all men's, women's and wheelchair players receive equal participation payments, while prize-money has been introduced for women's and wheelchair tournaments.

Action from the Wheelchair State of Origin match.
Action from the Wheelchair State of Origin match. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Wheelchair draw

The draw for the wheelchair tournament is similar to the women's World Cup, with six nations to join either England in Group A or France in Group B.

The make-up of the pots are:

  • Pot 1: Australia, Wales
  • Pot 2: Scotland, Spain
  • Pot 3: Norway, USA

The wheelchair World Cup will begin on November 14, 2021 at London's Copper Box Arena, with the final at M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool on the same weekend as the men's and women's deciders at Old Trafford.