21 Jun 2024

World Cup berths to be decided in Serbia, Netherlands

The first nations to win qualification for the 2026 Rugby League World Cup will be determined this weekend when France travel to Serbia and Netherlands host Wales in the final round of women's European RLWCQ fixtures.

After beating Greece 58-0 in their first group match, France are heavy favourites to finish top of Group B and join RLWC2021 semi-finalists Australia, England, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, who received automatic entry to the 2026 tournament in the Southern Hemisphere.

Victory in Purmerend will also see Wales qualify but if the Netherlands triumph by 12 points or more they can win Group A and secure an historic World Cup berth.

Both nations have played Ireland, with Wales winning 28-10 in Cardiff and Netherlands going down 16-12 in Dublin after defeating Italy 56-6 in a play-off for the remaining place in Group A with Wales and Ireland. 

“It’s a really exciting occasion for us to be playing our first ever home match with so much at stake," Netherlands coach Matt Rigby said. "Playing at home is something we’ve all been looking forward to and we will relish the occasion.

"Wales will be rightfully the favourites for this, but the underdog tag is the one we prefer. We will be looking to give a good account of ourselves and be competitive.”

Netherlands will be hoping to build on their impressive performance against Ireland, in which two missed conversions proved the difference. Kim Dekker is new to the squad and in line for a potential debut, but they are without Wests Tigers forward Jessica Kennedy and Brisbane Tigers centre Paige Schouw who have returned to Australia.

Victory by less than 12 points would secure Netherlands second place in Group A and set up a qualifying play off with the runners-up of group B for the European berth in the 2025 World Series repechage.

Defeat would see them eliminated at the expense of Ireland, while for Wales a win of any margin will see them qualify for their first World Cup owing to their superior points difference and would see Ireland confirmed as second place finishers.

Leeds Rhino Bethan Dainton will captain Wales after her impressive performance against Ireland in April.

Cardiff Demons trio Leanne Burnell, Lauren Aitken and Seren Gough-Walters all return after missing the Ireland clash, with Kathryn Salter also hoping to continue her record of having played in every senior international since the formation of the Wales women’s team. 

Gracie Hobbs of Huddersfield Giants and Cardiff's Megan Whittaker are the only uncapped players in the travelling party. 

“Saturday represents the opportunity for this group of players to achieve a major milestone, one that we’ve been working towards for the last three years,” Wales women’s coach Tom Brindle said.

“We know Netherlands are going to be a strong team, and the work they’ve put in and the performances to date have been very impressive. We know we need to perform to the best of our ability to compete.” 

France’s Geoffrey Poumes will take charge of the match as part of a team of neutral referees appointed to the tournament. The match, kicking off at 4pm local time, will be live streamed on the Wales Rugby League YouTube and Facebook pages.

In Group B, France will start as strong favourites after beating the Serbians 116-0 in Avignon in March 2023. They defeated Greece at home in the first group match, the Greeks then overcoming Serbia in Athens.

The kick off time at the FC Radnicki Stadium, Belgrade has been put back to 6pm as Serbia is currently experiencing a heatwave, with match temperatures of 38 degrees expected.

Serbian women’s head coach, Slobodan Manak, commented: “We are glad that we can host one of the best woman's teams in Europe. France are heavy favourites to qualify but we have prepared in the best way to give our all in front of our home crowd and improve the impression from our previous meeting.”

France will meet England in Toulouse on June 29 as part of a triple header also featuring an international between the men's teams of the two nations.

“We're grateful for the opportunity to play two consecutive international matches,” France coach, Romain Maillot said. “We're approaching this match against Serbia very seriously and with a great deal of respect. A win would mean qualification for the 2026 World Cup and that's our objective.”

Serbian head coach, Slobodan Manak, commented: “We are glad that we can host one of the best woman's teams in Europe. France are heavy favourites to qualify but we have prepared in the best way to give our all in front of our home crowd and improve the impression from our previous meeting.”

The game will be officiated by Jaroslav Bzoch from Czechia, and live streamed on the ERL Facebook page.


Netherlands: Kim Dekker (Castricumse RC), Carola Terlouw (Delft RC), Stephanie van Diepen (Harderwijk Dolphins), Dominique Velema, Hannah van Beukering, Lisa Berding (HRC Xtreme), Nicole Kennedy (London Broncos), Lorraine Voorbach (RC DIOK), Linneke Gevers (RC Octopus), Iris Hansman (RC The Big Stones), Arjanne van de Kieft (RC Wageningen), Vera van der Zwan (RC Zwolle), Hiske Blom, Kaylee Geerlings, Monischa Hieroms, Rixt Aerts, Sela Steenkist, Sylvie Moelee (The Blue Babes), Claire Kennedy (Wests Tigers).

Wales: Lauren Aitken, Leanne Burnell, Katie Carr, Shaunni Davies, Jasmine Gibbons, Seren Gough-Walters, Ffion Jenkins, Hannah Jones, Sara Jones, Rhi Parker, Amy Price, Brittony Price, Megan Whittaker (all Cardiff Demons), Bethan Dainton (Leeds Rhinos, captain), Ashlea Prescott (Featherstone Rovers), Gracie Hobbs (Huddersfield Giants), Kathryn Salter (London Broncos), Agnes Wood (Sheffield Eagles), Georgia Taylor (York Valkyrie).

Serbia: Olivera Miskovic (Arsenal Tivat), Anna Liuter (RLC Dorcol), Anastasija Karanovic, Milica Cvetkovic (RLC Partisan 1953), Karolina Blizanac, Katarina Veljanoski, Ljiljana Bajic, Natasa Kovacevic, Natalija Simic, Nika Bajic, Marija Maslakovic, Marija Simovic, Marija Stojcic, Sanja Starcevic, Tamara Bosnjak, Teodora Marin, Teodora Micic, Uma Cengaj (RLC Red Star Belgrade).

France: Amael Vilanove, Fanny Mama Ohandja, Ines Legout, Mahault Pommier, (A.S. Ayguevives 13), Cristina Song Puche, Justine Roses, Leila Bessahli, Louane Baby, Pauline Noe, (Deesses Catalanes), Dorine Samarra, Lise Diraison, Manon Samarra, Noemie Samuel, Perle Ramazeilles, Perrine Monsarrat, Salomé Segala (Racing Club Lescure Arthes 13), Tallis Kureza (RC Begles 13), Chahrazad Himoudi, Haoua Kessely, (Toulouse Ovalie).