The Rugby League International Federation board has approved in principle a rolling calendar of international matches for the next eight years.

The proposed schedule features a mix of world events, regional events and bi-lateral tours starting in 2019.

The decision to support the new calendar was made at a meeting at the RLIF annual congress held in York.

A highlight of the 2019 plan is the creation of the Oceania Cup featuring Australia, New Zealand and Tonga in one group and Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea in the other group.

Great Britain Lions will visit the southern hemisphere next year

The nations also agreed that the Great Britain Lions will visit the southern hemisphere next year to face New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea subject to consultation with the major playing leagues and the players' representatives. In addition, Australia will hold the first of a regular programme of international Nines tournaments.

The board has also approved financial support for the America Championship and for a new competition for nations in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).

The programme will be punctuated every four years with the Rugby League World Cup and will include the repeat of the Oceania Cup in 2020 and 2022 which will mirror the European Championships in the northern hemisphere, with space created for the bi-lateral arrangement of games and tours by the individual member nations.

The discussions this week have been extremely collaborative and positive

Nigel WoodRLIF CEO

"The whole international rugby league world has looked to us to complete this important piece of work. The discussions this week have been extremely collaborative and positive," said RLIF chief executive Nigel Wood.

"There is some further consultation to be undertaken with leagues and playing groups together with some important commercial evaluations before we could make final announcements. However, we are confident that we can complete these discussions before Christmas."

New Zealand Rugby League CEO Greg Peters was excited about the developments.

"We are delighted to have the support of the RLIF and member nations for a significant calendar of rugby league events in New Zealand," he said.

This will be the first time in the history of the sport that this number of games has been hosted in New Zealand

Greg PetersNZRL CEO

"This will be the first time in the history of the sport that this number of games has been hosted in New Zealand. We still have work to do but we are very encouraged by the commitment of all parties to work towards making this a reality."

Todd Greenberg, CEO of the ARLC, welcomed the collaboration shown in the discussions.

"It was refreshing to see the way in which we were all able to work together, particularly the Pacific Nations, to deliver the framework for this calendar," he said.

Papua New Guinea Rugby League president Sandis Tsaka: "It's a great boost for us in PNG to have a reliable calendar of games that we can promote to our fans, players and stakeholders."

Rugby Football League CEO Ralph Rimmer said he was pleased with the opportunities provided by the calendar.

"These are exciting times for the sport in general and particularly the chance we have to both take a Great Britain team to the southern hemisphere next year and then welcome the Kangaroos in 2020," he said.

"There is still some discussion to complete but everything looks to be moving in a positive direction."
Southern Hemisphere general manager Jeremy Edwards said: "This programme will give us all a framework that we can work with. The Oceania Cup gives the Pacific nations the ideal platform to continue the immense progress that they have made over the past few years."