Qualifying for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England begins in the Czech Republic in mid-June, with the start of European Championship C. Six nations, split into North and South groups will take part, with a play off between the respective winners taking them into the next phase in 2019.
The North group, featuring the Czech Republic, Germany and Norway, will see old rivalries resumed but all three nations are part of World Cup qualifying for the first time, something that all see as providing stimulation for further growth.
The matches open with the Czech Republic taking on Norway on 16 June. It will be the fourth time the nations have met, the Norwegians leading 2-1, including a 30-26 win last October in Krupka.
“For us to be taking part in World Cup qualifying is a dream come true,” says Lukas Hergott, president of the Czech Rugby League Association, the oldest of the three governing bodies. “We are a grassroots organization who have had to grow the sport organically with it being something totally new here, so the feeling of pride in seeing our name in these games is massive and makes all the hard work that goes in worthwhile.
“We hope to use the publicity generated from this campaign to promote our marvellous sport to a much wider audience of potential players, sponsors and fans. It should also give us a boost in obtaining official recognition from the Czech Sports and Olympic Association.“
Rugby League Norge president, Lee Johnson, has overseen a steady increase in the number of clubs and players and is sure that participation in this competition will trigger even more interest. “Taking part in the qualifiers is a great privilege for RLN,” he notes. “Although we have been only playing the game for the last ten years, we have seen our domestic competition get stronger and young players get better, and tournaments like this keep them hungry for more.
“The publicity RLN will get from playing these games will inspire the next generation, we will have a lot of new players in our squad after what has been our hardest selection camp to date.”
Germany make their bow in August and will be avidly looking at how their opponents perform in two weeks’ time. Restructuring has meant that they have not participated in official competition for five years and haven’t played the Czech Republic since 2010 and Norway since 2011. Their focus has been on building the BundesLeague competition, but now there is an opportunity for the best players to test themselves.
“The European Championship C matches are steps on the road back for us after we decided to completely rebuild in 2013,” comments Nationaler Rugby League Deutschland president Bob Doughton. “We are using the games to help solidify our domestic competition and we have reiterated to our players that all places in our national team are up for grabs. At this stage we are not contemplating what benefits progressing in the tournament could bring. We have to overcome the significant challenges of playing against the Czech Republic and Norway first and that is where our focus lies.”
EURO C – NORTH FIXTURES
16 Jun 2018 – 15:00 Czech Republic v Norway at Municipal Stadium, Vrchlabi
25 Aug 2018 – 16:00 Germany v Czech Republic at Ballsport ev Osnabrück-Eversburg, Osnabrück
15 Sep 2018 – 14:00 Norway v Germany at Kjølnes Idrettspark, Porsgrunn