The Rugby League World Cup has officially been delayed to a 2026-hosted southern hemisphere tournament after France's decision to pull out of hosting duties.

It's believed that Australia will step in to host the 2026 version, with the International Rugby League also confirming that the men's tournament will be slashed to ten teams in an effort to make the World Cup "more elite."

The wide-ranging announcement follows a recent board meeting in Singapore, which also confirmed the international product would have a proper calendar in place moving forward.

As part of that calendar, England will tour Australia for the Ashes in 2025, before Australia return the favour in 2027, with New Zealand to tour England the following year in 2028.

In other years, tri-series and four-nations series have been promised, with Australia reportedly set to play Samoa and New Zealand this year, while Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands could have their own tri-nations tournament.

Tonga tour England at the end of this year for a historic three-Test series.

IRL chairman Tony Grant said the new calendar would help to remove the 'ad-hoc nature' of international rugby league.

“It is no secret that the Achilles heel for international rugby league for far too long has been the absence of an International Calendar," Grant said in a statement.

“The ad hoc nature of tournaments and international matches, and the absence of any clarity for nations, players and fans to plan their seasons, is over.

“The International Calendar respects player workloads and importantly also reduces the impact on professional clubs.

“The standards have improved dramatically in recent years regarding player welfare and player workload issues, and they were key considerations in the calendar design.

“After we secure the future of international rugby league, our calendar will help rejuvenate and allow the game to grow globally, recognising the elite in our game and providing pathways for development of the game across all levels.

The IRL have promised an announcement on the hosts of the 2026 Rugby League World Cup by the end of the year, and a competitive tender process for future tournaments.

2026 will be the final time the men's and women's tournaments are played at the same time, with the first stand-alone women's World Cup to be played in 2028, and a men's World Cup to follow in 2030. Women's and wheelchair tournamens will both feature eight teams moving forward.

As part of the new World Cup process, the eight quarter-finalists from the men's side automatically qualify for the following tournament, leaving just two qualification places. That means Australia, England, Papua New Guinea, Lebanon, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa have all qualified for 2026.

The IRL have promised greater emphasis on regional championships to qualify for future World Cups, with the frameworks yet to be confirmed.

“The IRL board has made these decisions to create more compelling content and secure the financial future of the international game," Grant said.

“The cancellation of France 2025 has given us an opportunity to refresh the structure of the World Cup and associated tournaments as part of a long-term international calendar that all in the game have been desperately seeking.”

“The Rugby League World Cup is the pinnacle of our sport and an elite tournament that all nations should aspire to take part in.”

“With 10 men's teams at the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, there will be greater focus on Regional Championships and qualifying tournaments.

“The growth of Women's Rugby League has been at such a phenomenal rate that the IRL Board believes they deserve to have their own World Cup staged as a stand-alone tournament from 2028 onwards.

“With the Men's World Cup cycle moving back a year, there will now be a World Cup every 24 months, but this is not a set-and-forget international calendar and there will be opportunities to capitalise on the future growth we believe these changes will generate.”