The World Cup could be coming to Preston . . .
The city council has announced it is bidding to become a host city for Rugby League’s global showpiece when it is staged in England in 2021.
And it is possible Preston North End’s Deepdale Stadium could be one of more than 40 venues vying to wlcome international sides in what is already being touted as the biggest competition the sport has ever known.
The city council has set up a working party to formulate an application by the deadline for bids at the end of next month.
“A consortium of strategic stakeholders has been established to assess the criteria and consider Preston’s potential and options to be part of the Rugby League World Cup 2021,” revealed the council in a report to the Cabinet.
“The consortium will be looking to submit a bid on 31 July 2018.”
While the 14 match venues are likely to be major stadiums like Wembley and Old Trafford, it is expected the Rugby Football League will include smaller sites for training camps in an attempt to take the sport to a wider audience.
Bristol City and Middlebrough are amongst those who, like Preston, have announced they will be bidding for host city status for the competition.
And if a venue manages to land even one game, the prize can mean a huge boost of between £2.4m and £4.5m to the local economy.
Preston Council admits that while a bid looks like it will go in, the chances of hosting even a group match could be slim.
In reality the city is more likely to play host to one of the international squads - which include current World Champions Australia - as a base for the whole of the competition.
A council spokesman said: “It is early days, but we are working with key stakeholders from across the city to consider the potential for Preston to be a host city for the Rugby League World Cup and to prepare a bid.
“Preston has a long sporting history and as well as being host to the UK Corporate Games in 2012, has previously hosted international rugby teams, from Ireland, Fiji and Scotland.”
With the North of England being the heartland for rugby league in the UK, organisers have revealed around 80 per cent of the matches will be staged in the North.
But the Rugby Football League also wants to help spread the games to other areas.
So, in an attempt to take the sport to areas where it is rarely played, matches could be staged in the Midlands as well as London.
The mud had hardly dried on last year’s World Cup in Australia when the scramble to stage games in England 2021 began.
By December no fewer than 40 venues had thrown their hats in the ring to become one of the 14 host cities.
And some of those were not even in England, with bids understood to have come in from Perpignan and Avignon in France and Limerick in Ireland.
While some big names are vying for the shortlist - and they don’t come any bigger than Wembley Stadium - other smaller venues like Preston are hoping they can sneak into the reckoning.
St Helens Council has announced it is on the lookout to stage a game. Bristol wants one too, as does Middlesbrough.
Cities have until July 31 to register an interest before the initial bids process closes. After that it could be the end of the year before applicants move on to the candidate stage with a shortlist announced from which the final 14 host venues are unveiled in January 2019.
Organisers admit they have been inundated with interest from cities keen to play an official part in the World Cup.
“We’ve been really pleased, and even quite surprised, with the interest,” revealed John Dutton, the tournament’s chief executive speaking in December.
“We’re up to 40 potential venues now, which is great. And it continues to rise.”
The 2021 team say around 80 per cent of the matches will be played across the nortrhern heartlands of Rugby League. But London and the Midlands are also set to feature.
The first 16 venues to be revealed by the organisers include London’s former Olympic Stadium, now the home of West Ham United, and stadia in Newcastle, Huddersfield, Leeds, Hull, Doncaster, Manchester, Wigan, Liverpool, Warrington, Sheffield, Coventry and Cornwall.
RL World Cup 2021
England plans to stage the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup in history in three years time.
And for the first time the men’s, women’s and wheelchair games will all come together on the sport’s largest stage.
The organisers are hoping the 2021 tournament, to be held between October 23 and November 27, will provide a “lasting legacy” for the sport in England and beyond.
The decision to award the tournament to England came back in October 2016. The United States/Canada was the only challenger after the United Arab Emirates cancelled their bid.
The RFL is receiving £15m of government support to enhance the tournament, with up to £10m more being ploughed into the game’s infrastructure.
It is estimated up to one million people will attend the games over the five weeks the tournament runs.
In the men’s competition the nations who have qualified so far are England, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa and Lebanon. There are eight more still to be determined.
The women’s event will feature up to eight teams, as will the wheelchair section.