SCOTLAND have been granted automatic qualification for the 2017 World Cup after the Rugby League International Federation have decided that seven of the quarter-finalists at the 2013 World Cup will not need to qualify for the next tournament, which will comprise 14 teams and will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
The exceptions are the United States Tomahawks, who qualified for the first time in 2013 and pulled off upset wins over Wales and the Cook Islands to reach the knockout stages but are not full members of the RLIF.
The Tomahawks must also resolve the difficulties arising from having two rival domestic competitions but will still have the chance to book their trip to Australasia via the Americas qualifying tournament.
Scotland, under long-serving coach Steve McCormack, were another of the notable successes of 2013 RLWC after going through their group unbeaten to earn a meeting with holders New Zealand in the last eight.
The Bravehearts, who have risen to 11th in the latest world rankings, beat Tonga and the United States and drew with Italy to book their place in the quarter-finals, where they went down 40-4 to the Kiwis at Headingley.
The other automatic qualifiers are holders Australia, New Zealand, England, Fiji, France and Samoa, who have also qualified for the 2014 Four Nations Series to be held Down Under this autumn.
Ireland, who were in the “group of death” in 2013 alongside England, Australia and Fiji, must qualify, along with Wales and Papua New Guinea, who also failed to win a match last time.
The remaining seven places in the draw will be selected from qualifying tournaments across four regions – three from Europe, two via Asia Pacific, one from the Americas and another from Middle-East Africa.
All four regions will reveal their qualification programmes by October and the final make-up of the 2017 World Cup will be known by 1 December, 2016.
RLIF chairman Nigel Wood said: “The 2017 World Cup looks set to be the most geographically diverse in our history.
“The excitement, on the back of the playing success of the 2013 tournament when the group stages, especially, gave us some wonderful contests and new names and stars to support, is already evident.
“There is a clamour by existing and aspiring nations to be included and the process is now clear, equitable and gives the RLIF and those competing ample time to build the qualification games into memorable and meaningful events.”