COLOURFUL, passionate and absorbing Rugby League World Cup action returns to these shores for the first time since 2013.

While that tournament featured matches in England, Wales, Ireland and France, the entire 2022 event – delayed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic – will be played out in stadia across England.

Other differences this time around include a return to 16 sides competing for the men's prize, while never before have the women's and wheelchair tournaments run as part of this one big elite rugby league fest.

The last occasion the men's competition featured four even groups of four teams was back in 2000, with the numbers being reduced to 10 in 2008 and raised to 14 for 2013 and 2017.

This is a show of confidence that more nations are now at a level to be able to compete, and it provides for a simpler tournament format for everybody to buy into.

That said, the last two men's Rugby League World Cups have been among the most memorable.

Perhaps there is some home bias in that statement with England delivering decent showings – and then heartbreaking losses – after disappointing displays in 2008 and 2000.

Four years ago England came within a whisker of their first tournament win since the Great Britain success of 1972, losing 6-0 to holders Australia in a tense finale at Brisbane Stadium.

But just as impactful was the vibrancy and fanaticism on show for Tonga's matches in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea's games played on home soil.

The decision by a number of Australian NRL stars to represent their country of heritage, Tonga, instead of the Kangaroos particularly brought about an incredible surge in national pride both on and off the field.

Victory in the group games over one of the big three, New Zealand, in front of a red-cloaked barmy army of support added rocket-fuel to those passions and Tonga went on to give England the fright of their lives before being squeezed out 20-18 in the semi-finals.

It built on a brilliant 2013 event, which, in terms of attendance, exposure and revenue, is considered to be the most successful Rugby League World Cup to date.

Again, the Kangaroos were the winners of the men's event, beating the Kiwis in the final at Old Trafford.

Arguably the best game though was the England versus New Zealand semi-final at Wembley, which ended in heartbreak for the home nation when Kiwis half-back Shaun Johnson skipped past Kevin Sinfield with the last play of the game to seal their passage to the Theatre of Dreams.

Locally, the Samoans went down a storm in Warrington where they were based and trained.

And, inspired by giant St Helens-bound forward Mose Masoe, they almost pulled off the comeback of all comebacks in their opening group game against the Kiwis at The Halliwell Jones Stadium but faded late on after an heroic effort that thrilled a capacity audience.

The Rugby League World Cup is, in fact, the oldest established global competition for rugby of either code and some may be surprised by its beginnings with the event having not been the public suggestion of an English or Australian administrator.

The proposal to create the Rugby League World Cup was made by the French RL president, M Paul Barriere, in 1953.

This was at a time when football’s World Cup had only just been reluctantly embraced by the English FA.

Rugby expansionists felt it would promote ‘the greatest game’ around the globe though it would take many years before that dream would be realised. Today the game is reportedly played in more than 70 countries.

That first men's tournament staged in France was a massive success, though.

Great Britain won it, yet they had been given no chance. The international side had just returned from a tour of the Antipodes and so an almost ‘reserve’ team was selected.

Captained by a Scot, Dave Valentine, they reached the final and – in front of 30,000 Parisians at the Parc des Princes stadium and an international audience, courtesy of the newly introduced Eurovision – Britain won 16-12.

Few people had TVs then, and Saturday afternoon shoppers gathered around store windows to watch the action broadcast live by the BBC.

Warrington's Gerry Helme crossed for two tries and Leigh's Jimmy Ledgard kicked two goals.

Formats over 12 competitions since have included deciding the winners with a league table, and two tournaments played across the world over three years.

Today there are qualifying tournaments ahead of the main event, group games and knockout matches culminating in the excitement that only a final can generate.

Australia have won the men's tournament 11 times out of the 15 editions, but they lost the original cup itself when it was stolen from the team’s hotel during the 1970 series.

It was found on a Bradford tip 20 years later.

Two sponsors’ trophies were superseded in 1995 by a £10,000 cup made by Tiffanys to celebrate the centenary of the game in 1995, and the equally magnificent original was restored for 2000.

There have been many great World Cup games over the years, with particular highlights being the finals at Wembley in 1992 and 1995.

An epic contest was played out at Wilderspool in Warrington when New Zealand defeated Tonga 25-24 in injury time, also in 1995.

The semi-final at Huddersfield in 2000 when Wales led Australia 22-14 after 54 minutes before going down to defeat was another memorable occasion.

In terms of the women's event, it was not until 1985 in Britain and 1993 in Australia and New Zealand where female only organisations and governing bodies were established.

This is the main reason for no women's world cup being held until the year 2000 when these authorities collectively came together to organise it.

Men's world cup winners:

1954 Great Britain 16 France 12 at Parc des Princes, Paris

1957 Australia won on league table basis

1960 Great Britain won on league table basis

1968 Australia 20 France 2 at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney

1970 Australia 12 Great Britain 7 at Headingley, Leeds

1972 Great Britain 10 Australia 10 after extra time at Stade de Gerland, Lyon (GB awarded cup having topped the table)

1975 Australia won on league table basis

1977 Australia 13 Great Britain 12 at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney

1985-88 Australia 25 New Zealand 12 at Eden Park, Auckland

1989-92 Australia 10 Great Britain 6 at Wembley, London

1995 Australia 16 England 8 at Wembley, London

2000 Australia 40 New Zealand 12 at Old Trafford, Manchester

2008 New Zealand 34 Australia 20 Lang Park, Brisbane

2013 Australia 34 New Zealand 2 at Old Trafford

2017 Australia 6 England 0 at Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane

Women's world cup winners:

2000 Great Britain 4 New Zealand 26 in England

2003 New Zealand 58 New Zealand Maori 0 in New Zealand

2008 Australia 0 New Zealand 34 in Australia

2013 New Zealand 12 Australia 22 in England

2017 Australia 23 New Zealand 16 in Australia

Wheelchair world cup winners:

2008 England 44 Australia 12 in Sydney

2013 England 44 France 40 in Gillingham

2017 France 38 England 34 in south of France