Fiji, Samoa and Tonga will battle it out for two places in an expanded women’s competition at the 2025 World Cup in France.
With NRLW stars Simaima Taufa and Tiana Penitani this week telling NRL.com of their desire to develop a competitive Tonga team, the announcement of the RLWC2025 qualifying process has highlighted the challenge they face.
The 2025 World Cup in France will feature 16 women's teams - a doubling from the eight competing in England at the end of this season - and for the first time in the women's tournament, nations will need to qualify.
All eight nations taking part in this year's World Cup will automatically qualify but other countries need to secure their places through regional qualification, with each region awarded a number of places.
Asia-Pacific has been allocated six places but with Australia, Cook Islands, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in this year’s World Cup, there are only two spots remaining.
Fiji beat the PNG Orchids 28-0 in the 2019 mid-year Test and lost 22-14 to the Australian PM's XIII at the end of the same season.
Tonga and Samoa played in a double-header in Auckland at the end of the 2020 season, with Tonga beating Niue 66-8 and Samoa going down 28-8 to the Kiwi Ferns.
Taufa was born in Tonga while Tiana Penitani,Filomina and Fatafehi Hanisi, Yasmin Meakes, Shirley Mailangi and China Polata are among the NRLW stars with one or both parents born in the island Kingdom. Tegan Dymock also has a Tongan-born grandparent.
Samoa have an even greater representation in the NRLW ranks with more than 15 players either born in Samoa or having a parent who was born in the Pacific nation, including Dragons playmaker Taliah Fuimaono and Eels forwards Christian Pio and Christine Pauli.
Eels stars Sereana Naitokatoka and Taina Naividi and Dragons pair Talei Holmes and Aleti Namoce-Sagono are among the NRLW players eligible for Fiji.
Europe has also been allocated six berths, with England and France guaranteed places and Greece, Ireland, Italy, Serbia, Turkey and Wales among the nations vying for the remaining four spots.
The Americas will have three places, and with Brazil and Canada automatically qualifying through their involvement in this year’s World Cup, the United States will be competing with the likes of Argentina, Chile and Jamaica for a spot.
A country from the Middle East or Africa (MEA) will also be included in RLWC2025, with Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Lebanon among the nations likely to take part in qualifying.
“Our women’s game is growing well and the guarantee of places to each of the RLWC2021 teams gives them the certainty and continuity that helps them develop their programmes whilst, at the same time, opening up massive opportunities to new nations taking up the women’s game,” IRL chairman Troy Grant said.
In the 2025 men’s World Cup, there will be 27 countries vying for seven or eight remaining places after the RLWC2021 quarter-finalists and France, as the host nation, were guaranteed entry.
Asia-Pacific will have between five and seven places, depending on the performances of teams in this year's World Cup as Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga are all competing in England.
Europe will have six to eight places, while the Americas and Middle East/ Africa will have one or two berths each, depending on whether Jamaica and Lebanon reach the quarter-final stage in England.
Both the men’s and women’s regional allocations demonstrate a strategic increase in guaranteed berths for the Americas and MEA regions compared to previous World Cups.
“The International Rugby League has opened up more possibilities than ever before, and my firm belief is that will not only keep more players in the sport, but also more volunteers, fans and sponsors," Brasil team manager Robert Burgin said.
“We will see more World Cup qualifier games than ever before in advance of the 2025 World Cups, across men’s, women’s, wheelchair and youth categories, and this will increase the sense of excitement and expectation.
“In the Americas, aside from Brasil, the door is ajar for female teams from neighbours like Colombia, Chile and Argentina to grab that third spot, though they will face stiff competition from the likes of the USA and Jamaica, and maybe even El Salvador.
“In the men’s category, only this month we saw Chile record a massive upset against the Philippines, and while the pathway for men’s qualification is much tougher, the Latino spirit ensures all nations vying for the limited places will compete with absolute dedication.”
Qualifying details for the wheelchair and youth World Cup are yet to be finalised and further announcements will follow.