LONDON: Holders Australia will face Fiji, Italy and Scotland at next year's Rugby League World Cup following Thursday's (Jan 16) group stage draw that took place under the keen eye of Prince Harry, who made his first public appearance since announcing he and his wife Meghan were to quit as full-time royals.
Harry, 35, is patron of the Rugby Football League, the sport's governing body in England, and his participation in the draw at Buckingham Palace was planned long before last week's shock announcement.
Eleven-time winners Australia should have little trouble progressing from Group B with only 2017 semi-finalists Fiji looking capable of giving them a run for their money.
Hosts England - beaten 6-0 in the 2017 final by Australia - will have Samoa, France and Greece in Group A.
Samoa may be bolstered by the presence of New Zealand rugby union great Sonny Bill Williams who has switched back to league.
The 34-year-old played 12 Tests for New Zealand in rugby league including a game against Samoa in 2013, but he is eligible to play for the Samoans through his father's heritage.
The Kiwis for their part have Ireland, Lebanon - who were narrowly beaten by Tonga in the last eight in 2017 - and Jamaica in Group C.
Semi-finalists last time out, the Tongans are in Group D alongside fellow Pacific Islanders Papua New Guinea, Wales and the Cook Islands.
The tournament kicks off with England taking on Samoa in Newcastle on October 23 and runs till November 27.
ANNOUNCEMENT MADE UNILATERALLY
The couple want to step back as senior royals, split their time between Britain and Canada, become financially independent from official royal funding and pull out of the palace's media arrangements.
They made the announcement unilaterally on a new website - without first squaring their wishes with Queen Elizabeth II.
Harry was summoned to a hastily-arranged family meeting on Monday with his grandmother, father Prince Charles and brother Prince William to thrash out a way forward.
The final outcome is set to be determined in the coming days.
Harry will now face the tricky decision of whether to say anything about the rolling storm as he hosts the draw from 1200 GMT.
Harry on Wednesday announced in a video message that the sixth Invictus Games for wounded military veterans will be held in Dusseldorf in Germany in 2022.
He made no mention of the crisis or his future plans.
"They (Dusseldorf) will be exemplary hosts in picking up the mantle and showcasing what sport continues to do for these inspirational men and women in their recovery," he said.
Harry, who spent 10 years in the British army, serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan, founded the Paralympics-style event in 2014. It is considered as one of his major achievements.
Harry and Meghan spent six weeks over Christmas on Vancouver Island on Canada's Pacific west coast and the duchess has returned after briefly coming back to Britain.
The 38-year-old US former television actress visited two women's charities in Vancouver on Tuesday.
One was the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, a non-profit organisation that provides support to women who are fleeing violence, dealing with homelessness or living in poverty.
"She was very interested in what goes on for women in this community, who we all know are marginalised," said Kate Gibson, the centre's acting executive director.
The second, Justice for Girls, also said Meghan had stopped by, tweeting photos on Wednesday.
She discussed "climate justice for girls and the rights of Indigenous peoples", said the group, which helps teenage girls who live in poverty.
Despite Canadians' affection for the royal couple, who married at Windsor Castle in May 2018, a large majority (73 per cent) do not wish to foot security or other costs for their relocation, according to an Angus Reid Institute survey.
Besides the ructions in the royal family, Meghan could face yet more upheaval with her own family - potentially facing her own estranged father Thomas Markle in court.
He showed The Mail on Sunday an August 2018 handwritten letter to him from his daughter, which the weekly tabloid published in February last year.
Meghan filed a claim in October against publishers Associated Newspapers over the alleged misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.
The weekly newspaper has now issued its defence, raising the possibility that Meghan and her father could be called to testify against each another in England's High Court.
The front page of the Daily Mail - The Mail on Sunday's sister paper - said Wednesday that Thomas Markle was prepared to give evidence.
Meanwhile, William, 37, visited one of Britain's most diverse cities - Bradford in northern England - with his wife Kate on Wednesday, as they returned to business as usual since Monday's summit at Queen Elizabeth's Sandringham country residence.
Among their engagements was a visit to a South Asian restaurant and a meeting with former world champion boxer Amir Khan, with whom they discussed mental health in sport.
Both William and Harry have worked together on tackling mental health issues.