AUSTRALIAN clubs are fully behind the 2021 World Cup, according to its organisers, although chief executive Jon Dutton admits he is frustrated by their inability so far to secure an overseas television deal.

Dutton, who is 14 days into his promotional visit Down Under, told a media briefing he has been encouraged by the success of his three-pronged mission to “build relationships, raise awareness in Australia and excite people”.

It was opposition from the NRL clubs in the wake of safety fears caused by the coronavirus pandemic that led to the postponement of the World Cup last autumn but organisers say they are now fully on board.

Of 50 meetings planned, Dutton has so far met with 11 of the 16 NRL clubs as well as 12 of the competing nations and International Rugby League chief executive Troy Grant hailed the impact he has made.

“The presence of Jon Dutton here over the last 14 days and the engagement of the NRL clubs and critical stakeholders has probably overwhelmed me,” Grant said.

“It’s the standard of the preparation that has impressed all the clubs and they’re now asking how they can contribute.

“The legacy issue we’ve had for a long time about player releases and club protection is behind us.

“I think this is probably the least selfish that they’ve been in regards to selection to ensure that the international game is providing the best very players and making them available for the reboot of the game.

“We’ve had a couple of really tough pandemic-impacted years and prior to that some pretty poor administration arrangements and missed opportunities.

“But we’ve used that time to fix house and start the renovation of international rugby league.”

Australia coach Mal Meninga, who will be in St Helens next Thursday to help drum up support for the tournament, has made it clear he will not put pressure on players to represent the Kangaroos ahead of the Pacific nations, which will for example enable Penrith and New South Wales stand-off Jarome Luai to play for Samoa.

That would in turn improve the chances of Matt Parish’s Samoa emulating Tonga in providing genuine competition for the big three of Australia, New Zealand and England.

Dutton said: “Jason Taumalolo and David Fifita set the tournament alight in 2017 when they chose to play for Tonga and, talking to the players here, the strength of feeling of players wanting to represent their heritage nation is like never before.

“I’ve met with Mal, who is an international, and the same can be said for (Kiwis coach) Michael Maguire.

“We know the work Kristian (Woolf) is doing with Tonga and, speaking to Matt Parish yesterday, he knows he has some more players to come into his very strong squad.”

One of Dutton’s missions is to negotiate a deal for overseas television rights and, despite being under four months out from the opening game on October 15, he remains confident he can achieve his target.

“We are not there yet but there is no lack of positivity,” said Dutton, who insists the different time zones are not a stumbling block.

“We don’t want to undervalue what we believe is incredible content. We have some offers, we just need to keep talking to get the best deal for us.

“I am frustrated that it is taking longer than we hoped but we are really keen that, by doing the best commercial deal, we can look at free distribution into other territories, the likes of South America and West Africa.

“We want the tournament to get to as many people as possible across the world.

“If it takes a little longer, I would prefer that to get the best deal rather than rush into something we might later regret.”

Dutton says organisers have considered other options in case they fail to do a deal with a broadcaster.

“Like our work through the pandemic, we have more than one plan,” he said.

“Our preference is to work with the NRL family of broadcasters. But we have investigated direct to consumer and have spoken to other broadcast partners. Everything is on the table.”

Meanwhile, Grant says he is working on international calendar post World Cup, with Shaun Wane hoping to take England on tour at the end of the 2023 domestic season, and he has a meeting planned with IMG, which is set to overhaul the game in the UK as part of a 12-year deal with the Rugby Football League.