World Cup organisers are frantically working out their next step following the decision of Australia and New Zealand to pull out of the tournament.

A week on from announcing the event would go ahead as planned in England in October and November, officials were caught on the hop by the news from down under and are hurriedly trying to assemble an emergency board meeting to discuss their response.

Tournament officials were reportedly given just four minutes’ notice of the announcement from the governing bodies in Australia and New Zealand, who claimed it is “simply too unsafe” to travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It remains to be seen whether the tournament can now go ahead without Australia, who have won the tournament a record 11 times, and 2008 champions New Zealand.

The tournament is scheduled to kick off on October 23 when England face Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park.

Of the 61 matches across the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions, two are set to be at the University of Bolton Stadium.

With France basing themselves in Bolton for the tournament, they are pencilled in to take on hosts England in a Group A game on October 30.

The UniBol has also been handed a quarter-final match on November 14. That would see the runners-up in Group A face the winners of Group D which includes Wales, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

Leigh Sports Village also features prominently in the early stages of the competition, hosting the Group D game between Wales and the Cook Islands on October 27.

Lebanon, who will be based in the town, then take on Ireland at the LSV on October 31, before facing Jamaica at the same venue on November 7.

With Covid-19 infection rates in England continuing to rise, the two southern hemisphere powerhouses have decided to pull out after repeated calls for the competition to be postponed until 2022.

A joint statement from the two nations said: “The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) today informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns.

“The ARLC and NZRL have again requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player well-being.

“The ARLC and NZRL have resolved, that in the present environment the risks to athletes and officials travelling to the UK to participate in the tournament this year are too great, and it is unable to endorse Australia and New Zealand participating in the RLWC in 2021.”