A new chapter of international rugby league will begin this Sunday when Lithuania are the visitors to BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park to take on Wales Dragonhearts (kick-off 2.30pm) writes Ian Golden.
“Lietuva Rugby League” only formed in January of this year and this clash against Wales’ best community players, will be their first ever 13-a-side international.
The Lithuanians entered the London 9s in August in their debut outing at any level and performed beyond all expectations, finishing second, winning four matches and losing two, one of which was a 14-10 defeat to London Skolars in the final.
Many of that side are included for the trip to Wales, including Ernestas Lisauskas, the scorer of the first-ever try in Lithuanian colours when he grounded against Bangor University in that competition.
For many it will be their first competitive 13-a-side Rugby League game altogether. Whilst a number of the Lietuva players are experienced community Rugby League players, many are with London-based rugby union clubs.
However the one thing that links them together is that they are all, bar one, Lithuanian born, and have all now moved to the UK with families or for work.
Matthew Wright, Managing Director of Lietuva Rugby League, said: “Word of our success in the London 9s made it back home and has sparked major interest in the sport after featuring in Tiesa (one of Lithuania’s biggest publications) and many more media outlets. The playing group has only been together a short period of time but has impressed with their skill and commitment to the team.
“Chris Coates, our head coach, has shown great commitment in getting the boys ready, whether it’s been running individual sessions or group sessions. He’s incredibly dedicated to his role and has really taken his appointment in his stride.
“Our dream is to have a fully-fledged domestic competition in Lithuania for both men and women with clear pathways into professional sport for both and celebrate Lithuania’s proud history every time someone is called up to the national team.”
Wales Dragonhearts come into the game, in this their 25th anniversary season, after beating Southern England Lionhearts 26-20 in a warm-up match a fortnight ago.
Dragonhearts coach Ian Newbury keeps twelve of the side from that game, bringing back Kurtis Haille, Ben Jones, Jarad Hinnem and Craig Lewis, with potential debuts awaiting Paul Welch, Tom Matthews and Liam Silver.
This match will be just the third Rugby League international to be played at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, and the first not featuring the men’s senior side.
Newbury said: “It’s great to be bringing a game to BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, and especially such a historic one with Lithuania fielding a team for the first time on the international stage.
“It promises to be a great occasion and one we’ve been working really hard towards. We had a good run out against Southern England recently, but that game was played with six substitutes and unlimited interchange.
“I’m looking forward to this game – a full international being played with proper international rules so we can see exactly where we’re at before we travel to face England Lions next week.”
WALES DRAGONHEARTS: 1. Jonah Huntley (Rhondda Outlaws, West Wales), 26. Adam Watton (Valley Cougars, East Wales), 2. Kurtis Haille (Torfaen Tigers, East Wales), 3. Liam Watton (Valley Cougars, East Wales – captain), 5. Sam Pridgeon (Valley Cougars, West Wales), 6. Ben Jones (Valley Cougars, West Wales), 23. Shane Lee (Valley Cougars, West Wales), 19. Darrel Moyle (Torfaen Tigers, East Wales), 9. Dean Higgs (Valley Cougars, East Wales), 21. Paul Welch (North Wales Crusaders A, North Wales Origin), 4. Jarad Hinnem (Torfaen Tigers, East Wales), 15. Morgan Nicholas (Latchford Albion, North Wales Origin), 13. Mike Hurley (Valley Cougars, East Wales). Subs:
14. Grant Harrington (Torfaen Tigers, East Wales), 17. Tom Matthews (Torfaen Tigers, East Wales), 8. Shaun Watton (Rhondda Outlaws, East Wales), 11. Craig Lewis (Valley Cougars, East Wales). Reserves: 20. Byron Edwards (Torfaen Tigers, East Wales), 24. Liam Silver (Torfaen Tigers, East Wales).
LITHUANIA (from): Andrius Balanavicius (Gravesend RU), Andrius Baltuska (Kings Lynn Black Knights), Tadas Bileišis (Canterbury RU), Irvidas Juškys (Kings Lynn Black Knights), Saulius Kaleda (Boston Buccaneers), Mindaugas Kazlaukskas (Bath Rugby League), Ernestas Lisauskas (East London RU), Ricardas Matulis (Barking RU), Klaudijius Meidus (unattached), Brett Mikalauskas (Culcheth Eagles), Kornelijus Paltanavicius (unattached), Vytautas Pavilonis (Hendon RU), Jonas Pranevicius (Kings Lynn Black Knights), Marius Steponaitis (Kings Lynn Black Knights), Justinas Treciokas (London Lithuanian RU), Vitalijus Truksinas (Kings Lynn Black Knights), Mantas Urbonavicius (East London RU), Gediminas Valentukonis (unattached), Raimondas Vinksna (Kings Lynn Black Knights).