Wales head coach John Kear has named nine uncapped players in his train-on squad for the forthcoming European Championship, which doubles as a qualifier for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England.
And in addition to the nine (Chris Vitalini, Rhys Gant, James Mason, Liam Rice-Wilson, Connor and Curtis Davies, Sion Jones, Elliot Jenkins and James Olds), with experienced Dan Fleming, Jake Emmitt, Morgan Evans, Gil Dudson and Lloyd White returning to the squad after missing the 2017 World Cup.
The Dragons, under new skipper Elliot Kear, are the defending European champions and travel to France first up and then Scotland before welcoming Ireland to Wrexham.
“We didn’t do too well at last year’s World Cup, but it was a great experience and we didn’t give up at any point,” said Bradford winger Dalton Grant, who has recently won promotion under John Kear at Bradford.
“We’ve got a good pool of players, some experienced heads and some younger lads who are pushing through. It’s important that a pathway is there and it’s great to see all of the younger players coming through the system. It’s an important tournament for us.”
Rhodri Lloyd, fresh from helping Swinton retain their Championship status and still the youngest ever to play for his country added: “It’s the time we all look forward to because of how close we are as a group. The majority of the squad have been together for a while and it’s a really good environment to be in, we’re like one big family.
“All of the lads are passionate about playing for Wales and one of the reasons everybody enjoys it so much is because of the environment John and the staff create.”
Lloyd added: “We won the tournament last time out so there might be a bit of pressure on us. It didn’t go to plan at the last World Cup, we need to get a win under our belts and go from there. World Cup qualification might be at the back of our minds, but we’ll only be focusing on the first game and training sessions.”
WALES 25-MAN TRAIN-ON SQUAD : Dalton Grant (Bradford Bulls), Rhys Gant, James Mason, Liam Rice-Wilson, Chris Vitalini (Coventry Bears), Josh Ralph (Easts Tigers), Chester Butler, Connor Davies, Curtis Davies, Dan Fleming, Sion Jones (Halifax), Ben Evans, Elliot Kear, Rhys Williams (London Broncos), Elliot Jenkins (Rochdale Hornets), Gavin Bennion (Salford Red Devils), Ben Morris (St Helens), Rhodri Lloyd (Swinton Lions), Jake Emmitt (Toronto Wolfpack), Courtney Davies (unattached), James Olds (West Brisbane Panthers), Morgan Evans, Steve Parry (West Wales Raiders), Gil Dudson, Lloyd White (Widnes Vikings).
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP 2018 FIXTURES
ROUND 1 – Saturday 27 October
Ireland v Scotland – Morton Stadium, Santry (kick off 2pm)
France v Wales – Stade Albert Domec, Carcassone (kick off 6pm)
ROUND 2 – Friday 2 November
Scotland v Wales – Gala RFC, Galashiels (kick off 7.30pm)
Saturday 3 November
Ireland v France – Morton Stadium, Santry (kick off 2pm)
ROUND 3 – Saturday 10 November
France v Scotland – Stade Albert Domec, Carcassone (kick off 6pm)
Sunday 11 November
Wales v Ireland – Racecourse Ground, Wrexham (kick off 3pm)