RLEF launch Women’s, and Wheelchair, European Championships at Congress

Following its first-ever Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, the RLEF has announced the creation of two new Championships, beginning in 2023: the European Wheelchair Rugby League Championship and European Women’s Rugby League Championship.

“It is important that we continue to reflect our members activities and needs,” commented RLEF general manager, Chris Thair. “Both the women’s and the wheelchair games have grown considerably in the last few years and I have no doubt these championships will inspire further growth.

“Wheelchair rugby league is fast, robust and extremely exciting to watch and it involves some wonderful players who are genuine superstars. Our intention is to bring the action to the forefront and raise the profile of those who play it.  England, whose professional clubs launched the very successful women’s Super League in 2017, and France who continue to have large numbers participating, will start as likely favourites for the 2023 Women’s European Championships.

“Fittingly, Turkey’s women’s captain, Melike Sahan not only launched the Women’s tournament at Congress, but later inspired her team to an 18-14 victory over Italy in their inaugural Women’s international, watched by a very vocal crowd and all the delegates.

“The RLEF Congress welcomed over 40 delegates from 21 nations this year,” Thair added.  “Congress helps foster a spirit of togetherness as we all share the same journey.”

RLEF chairman Maurice Watkins said: “This 2019 Congress was the best we’ve ever held, and for that we give thanks to our staff, led by Chris and the Turkish Rugby League Association who hosted the event. TRLA president Gurol Yildiz, founder Julian Treu and the whole team were professional, inspiring, and have added a great deal to our membership.

“A great deal of time and effort goes into these events but it is the outcomes that matter most. A press section was introduced to the RLEF Congress this year and national Turkish television networks such as TRT Sports were present, along with council leaders. A speech from legendary Turkish sports commentator and TV host, Orhan Ayhan to launch proceedings added to the sense of occasion, and ensured that the sport was seen by millions on Turkey’s national news.”

“The decisions and talks held will lead to a brighter future,” Watkins confirmed. “A record number of Middle East African nations were represented, with delegates from Cameroon, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria and Palestine.

“The whole weekend was significant for international rugby league, in fact. Every single member of the RLEF was either at Congress or involved in a game.

“In just one day, the United States beat Jamaica, Canada and Latin Heat, to win the Americas 9s; Greece defeated Norway to lift the European Championship C trophy and move to the next stage of the World Cup qualification process; Spain played host to a Super League game which broke the Super League attendance record for a regular season game; and Turkey played their inaugural women’s international before us. There remains a great deal to do but we must also recognise the great strides that have been taken. Everyone is very excited and hopeful about the future of international rugby league.”

Action in a pulsating, inaugural European Women’s international, Turkey held on to overcome Italy 18-14 after leading 12-4 at the break.  Tries from Turkey’s Ecem Acikzog and Esen Gul, both converted by Acikzog, put the hosts 12-0 in front before an unconverted try by Italy’s Gioga Lozzi just before half time saw them back in the contest. Italy began the second half strongly and scored through Alessandra Berotti, however, a try by Mehtap Korku, again converted by Acikzog put Turkey into an unassailable 18-8 lead. A late try for Italy by Virgina Pinaello, converted by Valentina Viesin proved to be consolation for the visitors.

The game was superbly refereed by Serbian official, Vladan Kikanovic and played at the sunny Beylerbeyi Stadium.

Turkey Women :  Melike Sahan, Huyla Tasci, Gulusan Cakmak, Mehtap Korku, Nazlican Erdogan, Esen Gül (Izmir Bati Gucu RLC), Elif Yilmaz, Zeynep Aydın, Nazife Taşkın, Ecem Acikgoz(Ankara Phrygians RLC), Bengu Ozgen, Safak Ozturk, Merve Fırtına, Ezgi Kilic, Elif Kutlu (Kadikoy Bulls RLC), Berivan Dilmac (Eskisehir Aqua Warriors RLC), Jiyan Avras

Italy Women :  Lisa Sovran, Stefania Tolto, Riulla Callagel, Virgina Pinavello, Alessandra Menotti, Cecilia Piva, Valentina Virgili, Giulia Iozzi, Simona Gazzera, Rosa Bettolatei, Altea, Giulia Stucchi, Erica Neri, Enrica Pandolfo, Marika Ascione, Carlotta Gnerreschi.