It might still seem a while away, but international attention will begin to shift to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England after the pool groups were officially drawn overnight.
Led by British royalty in Prince Harry, hosts England will face Samoa in a mouth-watering first-up game that will give an early indication of whether the Pacific nation are ready to truly challenge the "big four" nations of rugby league.
Australia will meet Fiji, Italy and Scotland in Group B, while New Zealand were drawn against Ireland, Jamaica and Lebanon in Group C and Tonga play Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea and Wales in Group D.
In the women’s tournament, New Zealand were drawn in the same pool as Australia in a massive boost for the likes of England and PNG.
The 2021 World Cup is the first in which the men's, women’s and wheelchair tournaments have been staged concurrently, with all three finals to be played on the same weekend. The first match of the 2021 World Cup will take place on October 22, 2021 — played at iconic football stadium St James' Park in Newcastle.
World Cup Pool Groups
Men's Group A — England, France, Greece, Samoa
The host nation narrowly lost the 2017 final 6-0 to Australia and would be expected to top their pool but Great Britain's disastrous Southern Hemisphere tour at the end of last season and the retirement of Sam Burgess have raised concerns. Samoa are the obvious threat but their only win since 2016 was a 24-6 defeat of Papua New Guinea in last year’s Pacific Test.
Men's Group B — Australia, Fiji, Italy, Scotland
It would take a stunning upset for the Kangaroos to fail to top their pool but Tonga showed what is possible by beating Australia last November in Auckland and Fiji aren't too far behind. The Bati have qualified for the semi-finals of the last three World Cups and will be battle-hardened by Tests against New Zealand and Tonga this year. Scotland drew with New Zealand in 2016 and Samoa at the 2017 World Cup but its hard to see them or Italy making it out of their pool.
Men's Group C — New Zealand, Ireland, Jamaica, Lebanon
This is probably the most wide-open pool, with the exception of the current No.1 ranked Kiwis. Jamaica qualified for their first World Cup by beating the USA more than a year ago, while Lebanon are likely to field a young team after the retirements of Robbie Farah and Tim Mannah from the team that made the quarter-finals in 2017. Ireland were unlucky not to have advanced to the 2017 quarter-finals in place of Samoa and would have under the format for the 2021 tournament.
The results in Group C are likely to come down to which of Ireland, Jamaica and Lebanon has the best heritage players to help claim second spot.
Men's Group D — Tonga, PNG, Wales, Cook Islands
After beating Great Britain and Australia at the end of last season, as well as New Zealand at the 2017 World Cup, Tonga are aiming to win the 2021 tournament and few doubt they are capable. Besides Tonga, Group D is also wide open as PNG beat Great Britain at the end of last season and Cook Islands have the potential to field a strong line-up if all of their heritage players make themselves available. Wales have been disappointing in recent seasons but the tournament being in the UK will be of benefit to the Dragons.
Women's Group A — England, Brazil, Canada, PNG
The Orchids, Ravens and Brasileiras would have been doing handstands after being drawn in Group A with England. Brazil will meet the host nation in the opening game of the women's World Cup at Emerald Headingley Stadium on November 9.
Women's Group B — Australia, Cook Islands, France, New Zealand
Most interest in the women's draw was always going to revolve around which side of the draw the Kiwi Ferns were in and France and the Cook Islands now face a tough World Cup campaign. The Jillaroos are the defending World Cup champions and also won the 2013 final but New Zealand had won every tournament before that.
Wheelchair Group A — Australia, England, Spain, Norway
Australia will play England in the opening match at London's Copperbox Arena on November 11 after the Wheelaroos were drawn in the same pool as the host nation.
Wheelchair Group B — France, Wales, Scotland, USA
Defending World Cup winners France will meet Wales, Scotland and USA in pool B.