European Championship preview: Wales

The International Rugby League programme kicks off this weekend, and at, we’re supremely excited about internationals taking centre stage once again. But as well as the Four Nations – which actually begins next weekend – there’s the small matter of a European Championship tournament with potentially huge ramifications for the winner.

It was announced yesterday that should Ireland or Wales win the four-team tournament, they will actually qualify automatically for the World Cup in 2017 – Scotland and France are already seeded for the event.

And we’re going to be looking ahead to the event by previewing each nation this week – starting with a side who endured a miserable 2013 World Cup, but have high hopes this time around – John Kear’s Wales.

The Key Player
As motivation goes for an international tournament, Wales’ Dan Fleming (right) knows that automatic qualification for the World Cup really does raise the stakes ahead of the event – and he can’t wait to get going.Dan-Fleming-Castleford-London

“We’ve just discovered that the winner goes through to the 2017 World Cup, so the stakes could not be any higher,” he told us yesterday. “People might think ‘it doesn’t involve England or Australia, so it doesn’t really matter’.

“But it’s a massive for Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France. The route to the World Cup starts here for us. It would be unreal to play in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand – I would be packing my suncream for that!”

The Coach
It’s a welcome return to international Rugby League for John Kear, who has previously enjoyed spells coaching both England and France in the past. The Batley Bulldogs boss has named a squad that blends both youth and experience nicely, and they will fancy their chances of success should they win their opening game this weekend against Scotland.

The Squad
Elliot-KearJoe Burke, Dalton Grant (both Barrow Raiders), Byron Smith (Batley Bulldogs), Elliot Kear (Bradford Bulls, right), Daniel Fleming (Castleford Tigers), Rhys Williams (Central Queensland Capras), Tom Hughes (Coventry Bears), Matty Barron, Ricky Hough (Gateshead Thunder), Izaak Duffy (Gloucestershire All Golds), Ollie Olds (Ipswich Jets, Australia), Jacob Emmitt (Leigh Centurions), Owain Griffiths, Christiaan Roets (both North Wales Crusaders), Yannic Parker (Oxford), Ashley Bateman, Phil Carleton, Paul Emanuelli, Morgan Evans, Connor Farrer, Kyle Scrivens, Jordan Sheridan (all South Wales Scorpions), Matty Fozard (St Helens), Lewis Reece (Toowoomba Clydesdales), Peter Lupton (Workington Town).

Their Chances
Of the four teams who are participating in the European Championships, Wales will perhaps be considered the outsiders – not least due to a host of big names missing for them, including last year’s captain, Craig Kopczak. However, with the round robin format in operation, a win first up will give them a very real chance of claiming glory. Don’t rule them out, we say!