WANDERERS face an anxious wait as the Rugby Football League decide their next move on this year’s World Cup.

The withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand over “player welfare and safety concerns” has this morning cast huge doubt on the future of the competition, which is meant to begin on October 23, or whether it must be delayed until 2022.

Wanderers were due to play host to a group game between England and France on October 30 and a quarter-final between the winners of England’s group and the runner-up of Group D, which includes Wales, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands.

The club moved a League One game against Crewe to Friday night in order to accommodate their rugby schedule and had been expecting a large crowd for both games, with associated bookings for the club’s hotel, which would mean a considerable financial shortfall.

As a town, Bolton had been picked to host the French national team.

Leigh was selected to host the Lebanese national team and the Leigh Sports Village down to stage several games early in the tournament.

The withdrawal of the Australian and New Zealand heavyweights has now created a mood of uncertainty about whether the World Cup organisers can press ahead.

Both Australia and New Zealand have expressed concern about the way the pandemic is being handled in the United Kingdom and the impact that quarantine rules could have on players coming back to play in their own domestic competitions.

Assurances have been offered about player and staff safety during the tournament and pointed to the fact that other sports have successfully and safely staged world events in the last few months, including the Euros, Wimbledon and The Open.

A decision not to travel was apparently dropped at short notice this morning, leaving rugby league’s governing body, the RFL, in an awkward situation.

"There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia, and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change,” said NZRL chief Greg Peters.

"The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it's simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over."

Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys said: "Not participating in this year's World Cup is not a decision the commission has taken lightly, but we must put the best interests of our players and officials first. Protecting them is our absolute priority.

"In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.

"We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate."

RFL chairman Simon Johnson reacted angrily this morning: “The World Cup organisers have bent over backwards and turned double somersaults to meet every single requirement that was asked of them, by the Australians particularly,” he said.

“To have those assurances completely dismissed, I am angry about this. This is a selfish, parochial and cowardly decision which has been taken by the Australian and New Zealand leadership.”

Wanderers have made no comment on potential losses should the World Cup collapse, or whether their contract with tournament organisers would mean any form of compensation.