Newcastle's moment in the global Rugby League Spotlight has been thrown into doubt.
St James Park was due to host the opening game of the World Cup between England and Samoa on Saturday the 23rd of October. But, this morning, organisers of the tournament are frantically working out their next step following the decision of Australia and New Zealand to pull out due to ongoing Covid concerns.
The Aussies and the Kiwis are considered the best teams in the world.
Aside from the tournament's opening game, fixtures were also scheduled to take place in our region at Kingston Park in Newcastle, Middlesbrough FC's Riverside Stadium and the LNER Community Stadium in York.
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.
The PA news agency understands that the tournament officials were 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.
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."
NZRL chief executive Greg Peters cited "stark differences" between the management of the pandemic in the UK and Australasia and insisted it was "simply too unsafe" for the teams to take part in the tournament.
ARLC chairman Peter V'landys AM reiterated his New Zealand counterpart's concerns and issued a renewed appeal for the tournament to be rescheduled for next year.
"In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and well-being of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.
"The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols. They would then be required to remain under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before again quarantining on return to Australia. This is too much to ask our players and officials to do.
"We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate."
A statement issued by World Cup organisers said: "RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international Rugby League.
"RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward. A further statement will be made in due course."