Scotland coach Nathan Graham warns of new rule challenge to World Cup qualification

SCOTLAND coach Nathan Graham has warned that the Celtic nations will struggle to meet the homegrown criteria that will be used in this year’s European Championship and remain as competitive.

The competition presents the first opportunity for Scotland, Ireland and Wales, along with Italy, Serbia and Spain, to secure qualification for the 2025 World Cup.

England and France are also involved but are already guaranteed a World Cup berth, and have a large homegrown domestic pool to call upon.

But many of the other nations face a big task this year to meet competition rules which state that there must be a minimum of six homegrown players in their 19-man squad.

These players must have played at least ten matches in that country at senior or youth level, or not have played in any other country.

Graham, who took charge of Scotland in 2019 and led them to three defeats from three games at last year’s World Cup, admits it will be difficult to find players of the same level as their current squad who will fulfil the criteria.

He told League Express: “It’s a big ask for us. It’s not even players born in Scotland like Matty Russell, it’s people who picked their first ball up in Rugby League in Scotland. 

“England will be alright and France will be alright, but for the three Celtic nations it’s going to be tough to find people of the quality to get into the squad.

“If they’re the rules, they’re the rules, and we’ll be scouring every nook and cranny to try and discover players.

“There are pathways, starting at Under-16s. There’s Under-19s and a student pathway as well. There’s Edinburgh Eagles, a team in Aberdeen, a team in Glasgow. But with all due respect, they’re not going to be at that (international) level.

“We’re looking high and low at our under-19s, our students, at some people who have represented before who came from rugby union and have gone back.

“We had Lewis Clarke who plays for Edinburgh Eagles in the World Cup squad, so he’s pretty capable. There are a few.”