Organisers have defended snubbing heartland NSW in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup draw, saying allocating matches came down to a state government’s willingness to pay.
It is believed Sydney was considered for the finals but will now only host minnows Lebanon’s two pool matches after the NSW government failed to come to the party financially.
Even AFL-mad Darwin will host a quarter-final after NSW government disinterest, ensuring not only Sydney but also league strongholds Newcastle and Wollongong missed out in the Cup draw unveiled in Brisbane on Tuesday.
Six NSW venues were used for nine games during the 2008 World Cup, the last to be played in the country.
Rugby League World Cup CEO Michael Brown did not feel he had to justify why NSW was only hosting two of the tournament’s 28 games.
“It is about the involvement of each of the governments willing to host matches and sadly that didn’t happen in NSW,” Brown said.
“But we think Lebanon is the perfect team for Sydney to host.
World No.20 Lebanon will play Wayne Bennett’s England on November 4 and co-hosts Australia on November 11 at ANZ Stadium next year.
In contrast, the Queensland government’s willingness to commit funds has locked in a dream draw.
Brisbane will host a semi-final and the main event – the December 2 grand final at Suncorp Stadium.
In all Queensland will host a total of eight matches, with Townsville and Cairns each allotted three group matches.
Christchurch, Wellington, Melbourne and Darwin will host quarter-finals before semi-finals move to Brisbane and Auckland.
“This (Suncorp Stadium) is a premium stadium. An opportunity to host a semi and final here just tops the tournament off,” Brown said.
“The great commitment we got from the Queensland government made this the perfect venue.”
Brown believed the tournament – co-hosted by New Zealand – had found the perfect mix of venues which include three in Papua New Guinea.
“I can’t think of any other event in Australia that will cover so many diverse miles as this tournament,” he said.
Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith conceded that Sydney fans would be disappointed by the draw.
“It would be but one thing the NRL have done is try to grow our game across the nation and what a way to do that with the World Cup,” he said.
“It’s about celebrating our game. Let’s share it.”
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga had no problem with the draw.
“In the grand scheme of things we get so much footy in Queensland and Sydney,” he said.
“It’s great we can take it around Australia, New Zealand and up to Papua New Guinea where they are fanatical.
“I think it (draw) is fair.”
Melbourne has been given two games – the tournament opener between Australia and England on October 27 and a quarter-final.
Seven matches will be played at co-host New Zealand, including the country’s tournament opener against Samoa on October 28.
PNG will play each of their three group matches in Port Moresby.