IRL World Rankings: December 2023
England has regained third place in the men’s IRL World Rankings, while Netherlands and Ukraine were rewarded for successful international campaigns and the growth of the women’s game has been highlighted by six new teams earning a ranking for the first time.
A year after their shock World Cup exit at the hands of Toa Samoa, Shaun Wane’s England team has leapfrogged the Pacific nation following a 3-0 series defeat of Tonga to sit behind Australia and New Zealand.
Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, France and Lebanon, who have swapped places, are next, with Cook Islands rounding out the top 10.
However, Netherlands are closing in after climbing six places from 18th to 12th in the December 2023 rankings on the back of five successive wins in September and October against Norway, Albania, Serbia, Germany and Czech Republic.
Ukraine are among the biggest climbers, rising from 28th to 20th after back-to-back wins against Greece, who played at last year’s World Cup, in October.
Philippines have risen from 33rd to 23rd, while Malta (14th) and Poland (24th) each climbed five spots and USA are up from 37th to 33rd place.
England players celebrate during their 3-0 series triumph against Tonga
In the women’s IRL World Rankings, Tonga and the USA have made the most significant movement, while Papua New Guinea has leapfrogged France into fourth place.
Tonga is in 13th position, up from 16th spot, which is now filled by the USA, who have risen two places.
Netherlands are 18th after beating Greece in their recent international debut, while Kenya, Nigeria, Jamaica, Ghana and Uganda also feature in the women’s rankings for the first time – taking the number of participating nations to 28.
There has been almost as many sanctioned international matches involving women’s teams in the past two years as there was in the previous seven years.
In the wheelchair IRL World Rankings, England retained No.1 spot from France after last year’s World Cup finalists enjoyed a win apiece in their recent two match series.
IRL Chair Troy Grant said the rankings reflected the volume of internationals activity in 2023, with 64 sanctioned international matches being an unprecedented number outside a World Cup year.
Tonga are the biggest mover in the 2023 women's rankings (NRL Photos)
“In a nine-day period alone we had 23 sanctioned international matches, which was wonderful to see,” Grant said.
“We have the Pacific Championships up and running in the Southern Hemisphere, with Papua New Guinea as winners of the Pacific Bowl and New Zealand as winners of the Pacific Cup.
“We also had an historic tour by Tonga to England in the Northern Hemisphere, which was well won by England.
“The Kiwi Ferns upset the Jillaroos for the first since 2016, as well, and in the women’s game, we had 18 senior matches this year compared to 12 non-Rugby League World Cup matches in 2022.
“That is a 50 per cent increase, which demonstrates the growth of the women’s game, with women’s matches in all four IRL regions.
“We had the first ever women’s games in Africa, for which Nigeria and Ghana will be credited in our sports annals and is a wonderful step forward, and in the women’s Americas Championships Canada enjoyed a convincing victory.
“The on-field activity is what it is all about, ultimately and I have every confidence that the on-field content will only continue to grow, as will the competitiveness and status of international rugby league.”
Kenya and Uganda women played their first international in December
The IRL World Rankings are determined by the following criteria:
- Teams are awarded ranking points each time they play a sanctioned international fixture.
- Result and margin: The bigger the win, the more points the winning team receives and the fewer points are awarded to the loser.
- Strength of opponent: The higher the ranking of the opponent the greater the weighting of the result.
- Importance of the match: Games in official competition are weighted higher than bi-lateral arranged games. Rugby League World Cup games carry the greatest weighting.
- More recent games are weighted higher than older games and only games since the 2017 World Cup are considered.
- The rankings reward teams who are active and win games.
The Kangaroos have retained No.1 spot in the IRL World Rankings, despite suffering a record 30-0 loss to the Kiwis in the final of the Pacific Cup.
Australia rose to the top spot after winning last year’s World Cup and the Mal Meninga-coached Kangaroos beat Toa Samoa in Townsville and New Zealand in Melbourne but suffered the biggest loss in 115 years in the final in Hamilton.
New Zealand won the Pacific Cup final against Australia (NRL Photos)
The Kiwis remain second, ahead of England, who are now No.3 on the back of a 3-0 series win against Tonga and Samoa suffering a 50-0 loss to Michael Maguire’s record-breaking New Zealand team and a 38-12 defeat by Australia in the Pacific Championships.
Cook Islands have climbed into the top 10 at the expense of Serbia, who rose from 15th mid-year but are now 11th after heavy losses to France and Netherlands.
The Dutch have risen from 18th to 12th spot after winning all five of their matches in September and October, while Serbia have climbed eights spots to 20th following a 2-0 series triumph against Greece, who played in last year’s World Cup.
Ukrainian Federation Rugby League president Artur Martyrosian hailed the feats of his players in continuing to keep their nation’s World Cup hopes alive at a time when many of them are affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine are 20th after back to back wins against Greece.
“It is now very hard times for Ukraine, but it makes us stronger,” Martyrosian said. “We succeeded this year to organise, together with the European Rugby League and Greek Rugby League, a tournament in Athens and we won it.
“For us, it’s a big decision because we twice won against a Greece team which included seven Australian players with an experienced Australian coach, which participated in the last World Cup.
“At that time our team was composed only from Ukrainian players, and we have not had a13-a-side domestic competition for two years because of the war.
“Our plans are ambitious and with the help of Ukrainian heritage players, and English coach Kevin Deighton and Australian coach Dan Beardshaw, we would like to win the European Under19s Championship in 2024 and win RLWCQ2026 for participating in the World Series and World Cup.”
The Jillaroos are again No.1 after splitting their two matches against the Kiwi Ferns, with one win apiece, while the Orchids rise to fourth spot completes a top four of the semi-finalists from last year’s World Cup, who have qualified for RLWC2026.
Tonga has climbed three places to 13th spot after their 28-10 defeat by New Zealand – a respectable loss against a highly rated opponent.
The United States are the next biggest movers, up to 16th place after playing Jamaica and Canada.
The USA, Canada, Jamaica and Brazil will play next year in Florida for a place in the 2025 World Series, with the seventh-ranked Ravens – as the highest ranked team – expected to meet Jamaica, the lowest ranked nation, and Brazil and the Hawks to play.
USA women have ambitions of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup
The two winners will play in a final to determine the Americas team for the 2025 Series, which will decide the final World Cup spot.
USA Hawks women’s coach Ady Cooney believes it is just the beginning of an upward trajectory for the game in the United States.
“If we can get some funding into the women’s game and we can see them playing on a more regular basis then naturally we should see improvements in scorelines and to close that gap with other nations,” Cooney said.
“We are very ambitious, and our eyes are firmly set on the qualifying process for the next World Cup cycle and beyond that. I don’t think we are too far behind the Canadians after our games in Jamaica.
“I think, particularly in the game against Jamaica, we executed our game very well and showed glimpses of where we can be.
“If we can get several Test matches in place to give them something to work to and get some funding behind us there is nothing stopping us knocking on that door and getting to the top 10 sooner rather than later.”
England have retained top spot for the first time in back-to-back years after winning last year’s epic World Cup final at Manchester Arena and then overcoming a 43-34 loss to France in Leeds to triumph 34-18 in Marseilles.
England remain the No.1 wheelchair team after a dramatic series against France
It was just the second time England have won in France, a feat only previously achieved in 2019.
England coach Tom Coyd said the No.1 ranking was the result of a commitment to sustained success after a 10-year project of talent development and domestic growth since 2013.
“A drawn series versus France exemplifies how competitive the two countries are, and it will require us to continue to perform at the highest level to retain the top spot,” Coyd said.
“To achieve the second ever victory on French soil with a comparatively much younger team versus France, we are well poised to grow towards the 2026 World Cup