Toronto Wolfpack half-back Ryan Brierley thinks Scotland can make a major impact on the Rugby League World Cup this autumn, and hopes playing in the third-tier of British rugby league will not stop him making the Bravehearts squad.
Brierley made the surprise move from Super League side Huddersfield, where he partnered his Scotland team-mate Danny Brough in the halves, to ambitious Toronto, the world’s first Transatlantic sports franchise. The move has worked incredibly well so far as Brierley has torn up League One with a serious of scintillating displays before being hit by a hernia injury.
“I can’t wait until the end of the year,” said Brierley. “I hope dropping two leagues down with Toronto hasn’t affected my chances. I know Steve (McCormack) has had players from that division in the squad before. Whether I can perform at that top level is down to Steve. I just hope he sees what I’ve done in the past and knows what I can offer him and I can get on that plane to Australia. If I don’t make the squad I will need to know what I need to get better and get back in that team.”
Having missed a couple of games with a hernia operation, Brierley returned to the Wolfpack side recently for their shock defeat at York City Knights, followed by a 68-0 thrashing of Workington Town at the ground where he helped Scotland to a stunning draw with New Zealand in the Four Nations last November.
“Did I fully enjoy the Four Nations experience?” Brierley said. “No, because I had an injury. It was very mixed. The injury after the Australia game rattled me a little bit as I’ve never really been injured before. Walking around the hotel in a protective boot was sad. I felt I didn’t put my best foot forward. People talk about scoring the first try against Australia but I didn’t play well enough. I’m the first to admit when I’m not good enough and in that tournament I wasn’t.
“I’ve got a burning desire to put that right and prove I can cut it at that level,” says Brierley, who starred at Leigh Centurions in the Championship before spending a year at Huddersfield. “It struck me at the end of the last game against New Zealand. I don’t know if you noticed but I probable didn’t celebrate as much as the other boys as I knew I had a lot more in me and that I could have helped the boys out a lot more. Hopefully I can take those lessons and really push on into the World Cup.”
In a group with co-hosts New Zealand, plus Pacific heavyweights Tonga and Samoa, Scotland could be considered outsiders. However, a look at the potential squad and the Bravehearts are thought by some neutrals to be potential semi-finalists.
“Two years ago I’d have been very fearful for us when you look at those fixtures, but there’s an underlying confidence in us now,” says Brierley. “We won’t shout about who we could beat and who we won’t, but to get a point and be very unlucky not to win the game against New Zealand, and to think we were the better team against England, really puts us in a good position going into the World Cup.
“Looking at who missed out through injury last year, like Peter Wallace and Joe Wardle, our team will be really dangerous. I’d rather be in our shoes as underdogs than any of the other teams in our group as favourites. There are players all over the world that want to represent Scotland. It’s an exciting time and hopefully we can capitalise on the momentum that’s already been created.
“We could cause some problems. We can push ourselves to perform at a level Scotland hasn’t seen its team perform before. We’ve got a great team. No-one writes us off anymore. We are genuine contenders.”