With less than two weeks to go until the Rugby League World Cup kicks off in the UK, the World Cup trophies were welcomed with open arms by London rugby league legend Martin Offiah.

Offiah, who is England’s top try scorer of all time, joined England and St Helen’s star Jodie Cunningham, England wheelchair rugby captain, Tom Halliwell and England men’s player Niall Evalds for a session with grassroots club Brixton Bulls to celebrate the upcoming tournament.

The 2021 Rugby League World Cup is particularly special as it will be the first time all three categories will be competing alongside one another – the men’s, women’s and wheelchair.

Hackney-born Offiah said: “If the women’s, wheelchair and men’s team can go far [in the World Cup] it will create something unheard of. Imagine if all three lifted the World Cup, it would tell such a fantastic story.”

While traditionally thought of as a Northern sport, rugby league has continued to grow across the South, including in London which is becoming a hotbed of talent with increased opportunities to play.

And Offiah hopes the World Cup will spark more excitement in the city and inspire more people to get into the game.

“We have had loads of great players coming from London, Kai Pearce-Paul and Dan Sarginson for example, but it is tough, when London have been strong and produced players, those players have been signed by Northern clubs.

“But we can only look to the future and see what we can do. You’ve got to be optimistic, I’ve seen some great talent. At the Brixton Bulls there was one lad as big as me and he was only 12. And it’s not all about money it’s about creating legacies and inspiring youngsters to take the chances that are given to them.”

And this dream could well become reality, with The National Lottery investing over £9.3m to support the development of Rugby League across the country over the next five years (2022-2027).

In fact, £750,000 is being distributed as a direct result of the World Cup through the CreatedBy Grants Programme to Rugby League clubs and community schemes to ensure more people have the opportunity to play the game.

There are now 35 rugby league clubs across London and the South East, 14 of which reside in Greater London and two of these that are pro clubs - London Broncos, who are in the Championship and London Skolars in League One.

Offiah, who was in London with the World Cup trophies, was joined by England star Cunningham who is set to compete at her third World Cup. The 30-year-old was thrilled to see so many youngsters loving the game and has high hopes for the upward trajectory of female sport.

She said: “Having all three tournaments alongside each other is brilliant for so many reasons and I’m so excited. It gives the opportunity for anyone to be a part of this tournament. It really is going to be a tournament for everyone.

“2022 has been such a celebration of sport. I really believe women’s sport is on this massive upwards trajectory, and we want it to continue. I hope even more women and girls can be inspired and those who watched the Euros and loved it will hopefully also watch the Rugby League World Cup and love that too.

“And to those who do watch the tournament and want to give it a go they definitely should! I’ve met so many amazing friends, had so many great opportunities and had lots of laughs along the way – it’s been the best."

*The National Lottery players are providing over £9.3m of vital support to Rugby League between 2022-27 to aid the development of the sport across the country. This includes £750,000 to support communities across England through the RLWC21 CreatedBy Grants Programme as well as providing vital funding for the Women’s and Girls’ game during the pandemic.