New Zealand is set to get a massive injection of international rugby league matches in 2019 with confirmation today of the Great Britain Rugby League Lions' tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea as well as the inaugural Oceania Cup.
Vodafone Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and club-mate Leivaha Pulu were both in attendance for the ground-breaking announcement.
The first match of the Oceania Cup sees the long-awaited rematch between the New Zealand Kiwis and Mate Ma’a Tonga which has been set down for Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, June 22.
The Kiwi Ferns will take on a Pacific Islands team on the same night.
The mid-season clash is one of three Tests the Kiwis will play in New Zealand in 2019 with the Oceania Cup Test against the Kangaroos being played in Wollongong on October 25.
The Oceania Cup will feature two pools with New Zealand Kiwis, Australian Kangaroos and Mate Ma'a Tonga in Pool A and Toa Samoa, Fiji Bati and the Papua New Guinea Kumuls in Pool B.
Organisers also announced the Great Britain Rugby League Lions will be in action in the southern hemisphere for the first time in 13 years, playing two Test matches against the Kiwis (November 2 at Eden Park and November 9 at Christchurch Stadium) plus one-off Tests against Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
The Kiwis v Great Britain clash will be one leg of a mouth-watering triple header which will also feature the Kangaroos taking on the Tongans in their Pool A Oceania Cup match and Toa Samoa facing Fiji in their Pool B Oceania Cup encounter.
The Lions start their keenly-anticipated southern hemisphere tour on October 26 with a Test against Tonga in Hamilton, the scene of the Tongans' epic win over the Kiwis in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
New Zealand Rugby League CEO Greg Peters said he was “excited to see all the hard work behind the scenes come into fruition with more international rugby league content locked in for our country and our fans.”
“We could not be doing this without the support of New Zealand Government, the host cities and NZRL’s commercial partners so I’m incredibly grateful to all of them for making this possible,” he said.
“Our rugby league community in New Zealand has been hoping for more international and Kiwis fixtures in our back yard for a while now so I’m pleased we’re able to deliver on this for them.
“New Zealand Rugby League is also delighted to be bringing such an event to New Zealand that will benefit the teams throughout the Pacific.”
RLIF Southern Hemisphere general manager Jeremy Edwards was delighted to announce such a packed schedule.
"This international programme is both exciting and ground-breaking and it is great to see the Great Britain Rugby League Lions following in the historic footprints of previous tours,” he said.
"The Oceania Cup is an important step in creating a full international calendar that fans, players and commercial partners can enjoy.
"It has taken a huge amount of work to deliver this and I commend the efforts of all those who have brought us to this point. It is a great platform for the international game in the Asia Pacific Region."
Rugby League Players' Association (RLPA) CEO Ian Prendergast says the Oceania Cup and Great Britain Rugby League Lions are fantastic additions to the international rugby league calendar.
“It is fantastic that there will be significant international content in 2019, including new properties in the Nines and the Oceania Cup, as well as the Great Britain Rugby League Lions touring down under,” he said.
“It reflects the enhanced profile, interest and competitiveness of international rugby league. In particular, the Oceania Cup provides a tremendous new platform for the Pacific nations to compete on the world stage.”
“We have enjoyed working through the process with the RLIF and the nations to establish the schedule for 2019 and look forward to continuing these discussions when planning for future matches takes place.\
“The international game presents exciting opportunities for our members and through continued collaboration we look forward to further showcasing the wonderful rugby league talent we have in the game.”
Rugby Football League chief executive Ralph Rimmer said the return of the Great Britain Rugby League Lions was highly-anticipated.
“The return of the famous Great Britain jersey is something people have been talking about for a long time so this is an exciting announcement for us,” he said.
“It’s 12 years since Great Britain last played a Test, and 13 since they last travelled to the southern hemisphere, for the Tri-Nations series of 2006.
“There is such history and tradition around that Great Britain shirt, it’s great for the game to have it back and we’ll be committed to respecting and honouring that tradition.”
Note: Event organisers are grateful for the support for New Zealand government through the Major Events Development Fund, ATEED, H3 and ChristchurchNZ.
2019 International Schedule:
Saturday, June 22 | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
- Kiwis v Mate Ma’a Tonga (Oceania Cup)
- Kiwi Ferns v Pacific Islands (Women's Test)
Saturday, June 22 | Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney
- Toa Samoa v Papua New Guinea Kumuls (Oceania Cup)
- Fiji Bati v Cook Islands (Pacific Test)
Friday, October 25 | WIN Stadium, Wollongong
- Kiwis v Kangaroos (Oceania Cup)
- Kiwi Ferns v Australian Jillaroos (Women's Test)
Saturday, November 2 | Eden Park, Auckland
- Kiwis v Great Britain Rugby League Lions, (First Test)
- Kangaroos v Mate Ma'a Tonga (Oceania Cup)
- Toa Samoa v Fiji Bati (Oceania Cup)
Saturday, November 9 | Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand
- Kiwis v Great Britain Rugby League Lions (Second Test)
- Fiji Bati v Papua New Guinea Kumuls (Oceania Cup)
Saturday, November 16 | Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
- Papua New Guinea Kumuls v Great Britain Rugby League Lions (Test Match)
- Papua New Guinea Orchids v Pacific All-Stars (Women's Test)