Almost 15,000 tickets remain on sale for the opening game of this year's Rugby League World Cup between England and Samoa.
Tournament chief executive Jon Dutton told a media briefing in Manchester that around 35,000 tickets have been sold for the game at Newcastle's St James' Park and that total sales have reached 350,000, edging close to the 382,080 aggregate total for the last World Cup in Australia in 2017.
With almost three weeks to go, organisers are still hoping for a near-sell-out for the opener and Dutton says under 5,000 tickets remain for the England-France group game in Bolton.
Although organisers have no doubt they can improve on the aggregate total of 458,483 for the last home World Cup in 2013, their target of 750,000 now seems overly ambitious.
Dutton admits the cost of living crisis in post-pandemic Britain is having an effect on ticket sales but he remains confident about being able to deliver a successful tournament.
"We remain incessantly positive, determined and relentless in our bid to deliver the best World Cup in history," he said.
In outlining the rules and procedures that will be in force during the 16th World Cup, tournament director Dean Hardman told the briefing there are no plans for neutral referees, partly due to practical reasons.
"That's not a core philosophy," he said. "It will be the best available official for each game."
Of the 28 match officials, 15 will be appointed by the Rugby Football League, nine will come from Australia and two each from New Zealand and France.
The matches will be played under international laws, so there will be no two-point drop goals that are seen in the NRL but northern hemisphere teams will have to adapt to the Captain's Challenge that is commonly used in Australia.
Hardman says teams will be allowed one unsuccessful challenge per game and both players and officials will be briefed on the procedures before the tournament starts.
"The Captain's Challenge is new to half of our players and it's new for more than half of our match officials so there has to be that education process," he said.
"We've got the policy and we're doing a workshop with head coaches to help them understand the key rules."
The head injury assessment rules will be those in use in Super League but, if a team loses three or more players to concussion during a game, they will be permitted to use an 18th player, who must be named in advance.
Hardman also suggested that the judiciary may adopt a slightly more lenient approach to players who face charges from the match review panel, which will comprise representatives from both Super League and the NRL.
"There are 30 games in a Super League season and three games potentially in a World Cup and that proportionality as a principle has to apply," he said.
"But players who injure other players will have to be dealt with by the judiciary, there is no getting around that point."
Hardman confirmed that any bans imposed during the tournament will be carried over if necessary into the domestic seasons in 2023.
The 24-man squads for all 16 men's teams were submitted to organisers before the weekend but teams will have until October 8 to make any changes.
Australian Associated Press