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Kangaroos duo Boyd Cordner and Cameron Munster.

The Kangaroos may go into the 2021 World Cup having not played as a team for two years.

But there may be some good from that with officials believing the havoc caused by COVID-19 could lead to a greater alignment of the NRL and Super League competitions to create a genuine international window.

With State of Origin to be played after the October 25 NRL grand final and Super League to run possibly even later into the year, it is widely accepted that the first Kangaroo tour since 2003 will be scrapped.

International Rugby League [IRL] chairman Greg Barclay admitted there were also doubts about whether any international fixtures will be played this season unless crowds are permitted to attend.

Tonga Invitational v Kangaroos, Test Match, 2019

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There have been reports of a three-Test series between New Zealand and Tonga to run concurrently with the Origin series, and the winner to then take on Australia.

However, it is believed that NRL clubs would be reluctant for their players to be involved in further matches after the Origin series concludes in late November, while gate receipts are crucial to the viability of Tests for other nations.

A triple-header featuring the Kiwis, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands has also been mooted in place of the end-of-season Oceania Cup but with no broadcast revenue the $1 million cost of staging the event would need to be covered by gate receipts and sponsorship.

Paul Vaughan scores during Australia's loss to Tonga.
Paul Vaughan scores during Australia's loss to Tonga. ©NRL Photos

"At the moment the IRL can't afford to fund that and those countries, I'm assuming, won't be able to afford to participate in something like that," said Barclay, who is also chairman of New Zealand Cricket and a member of the International Cricket Council board.

"I think we would need to cover those costs through ticketing but all of the scenario planning I have seen for sports, including cricket, is that there would be limited audiences at venues [for the remainder of this year]."

Australia's last Test appearance was the historic 16-12 loss to Tonga at Eden Park in November. Mal Meninga's men were due to tour Britain at the end of this season.

Matches against Super League clubs, including Toronto Wolfpack, were being considered as part of the first Kangaroo tour in 17 years.

There were also discussions about the Jillaroos playing the Canada Ravens in a double-header with a Kangaroos-Wolfpack clash.

However, Barclay said the setback to the international game could also yield future benefits as the IRL now has a good relationship with the NRL through the involvement of deputy chairman Troy Grant on the Project Apollo committee.

I think there is a really positive sentiment ... to try and find a window that might accommodate the international game

IRL chairman Greg Barclay

Project Apollo is chaired by ARL Commisioner Wayne Pearce, who is a strong advocate of the international game, and also includes RLPA CEO Clint Newton –a former USA representative – who has a close working relationship with the IRL.

Pearce and fellow ARL Commissioner Peter Beattie are also on the IRL board. 

"I think there is a really positive sentiment out of the Commission to try and find a window that might accommodate the international game, and secondly to actually get some alignment," Barclay said.

"It is a really good opportunity for us, while the two professional leagues that dominate the world of league are going through the exercise of having to restructure or make whatever changes they might need to make, to potentially insert ourselves in the conversation and see what it might mean for the international game as well.

"I am really keen to look at what an eight-year cycle looks like and what events we can drop into that, how they might be hosted, where they might be hosted and those sort of things.

"If we can build some continuity and clear commitments to international games going forward we can take to broadcasters and commercially we might have a chance of making some headway."

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Meanwhile, Barclay said the IRL had no immediate plans to replace CEO Nigel Wood after his departure later in the year.

"With the COVID situation one of the first things we did was have a look at what our organisation needed, what the financial implications were for the organisation going forward and Nigel’s contract was due for review," he said.

"There is actually no intention at this stage to appoint a new CEO, and it may be that there is not a lot of international football played over the next 12 months or so anyway, so it is a good chance to have a re-set."

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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