The Oceania Cup could be staged next year to help teams prepare for the World Cup after the cancellation of international fixtures in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation (APRLC) confirmed on Friday the “difficult decision” to cancel the 2020 Oceania Cup 2020 due to uncertainty about international travel, mass gatherings and sporting event biosecurity.
With the Oceania Cup not scheduled in World Cup years, the decision leaves Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga with no Tests for up to 24 months ahead of the tournament in England at the end of next season.
However, APRLC officials are now hoping Oceania Cup matches can be played next year in the lead up to the 2021 World Cup to assist competing nations with their preparations.
"While having to cancel this year's event is disappointing, we have immediately turned our focus to planning for Oceania Cup 2021,” APRLC chief operating officer Jeremy Edwards said.
“This will be an important tournament for our members as part of their preparation for next year's Rugby League World Cup 2021 in England.”
The APRLC, which runs the Oceania Cup, has spent the last six months exploring fixture options for 2020 in an ever-changing COVID-19 environment.
After postponing Oceania Cup men's and women's fixtures scheduled for June, planning continued for fixtures at the end of the season but uncertainty over player travel and limits on crowds attending matches have made it impossible to deliver this year's event.
RLPA CEO Clint Newton said work would continue with the APRLC to improve the opportunities for more players to represent their nations in 2021.
"Players are intensely passionate when provided with the opportunity to represent their heritage, and we will work towards providing those opportunities next year,” Newton said.
“The RLPA will continue to work closely with the APRLC to advance the Asia-Pacific nations and we look forward to further strengthening our relationship over the coming six-to-12 months".
The 2020 Oceania Cup was scheduled to feature six men’s teams - Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga - as well as a four-nation women’s tournament involving Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Samoa.
"There was great excitement among our member nations about this year's fixtures in both June and November, but unfortunately current restrictions and uncertainties have made it impossible to follow any other path,” APRLC chairman Sandis Tsaka said.