This year’s World Cup is looming – but Castleford Tigers are already thinking about the 2025 competition in France.
That’s after their Academy winger Abdullah Balogun was named in the Nigeria squad for the start of the Middle East and Africa (MEA) qualifying process this month.
Nigeria, Cameroon and Morocco will join hosts Ghana in a four-team MEA Championship competition in Accra, from which the top two will progress to face Lebanon and South Africa in a four-team MEA Cup tournament next year.
Should Lebanon make this year’s World Cup quarter-finals, the highest-placed finisher from the other three MEA Cup participants will enter an inter-regional repechage in 2024 for the right to compete in France the following year.
If the Cedars are eliminated in this year’s group stages, only one nation, the 2023 MEA Cup winners, will make the 2025 finals.
“The call-up is a huge accomplishment for me, and my goal is to qualify for the next World Cup,” said Balogun.
“The year I’ve had and the way my career is going, I’ve really improved as a player and I’ll be able to show it to everyone.”
Speaking to the club website, he added: “I was born in Nigeria, but I have lived here all my life, so I’ve not had the time to explore my origins. It will be class to represent my home and where I come from.
“My mum has been with me for the whole ride, through the ups and downs. She tries to talk me out of sport because of the dangers, but she’s also proud of me. She knows how hard I work and I really appreciate her for that.”
Castleford’s development system is led by Rob Nickolay, and Balogun added: “Being here has done me the world of good.
“When I came, I was very under-developed. Through pre-season, I got taught a lot of things and for me it was about consistency. I started showing myself more.”
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