Holders Wales will open the third European Rugby League Youth Championships this Sunday when they take on Ukraine at the Makis stadium in Belgrade, Serbia, writes Ian Golden.
The tournament is an eight-team straight knock-out, but every side will have three matches as there will be consolation play-offs and ranking matches in addition to the semi-finals and final.
All games will be at the same stadium as quadruple headers with further rounds on Wednesday 8 and Saturday 11 August.
New Welsh U19s head coach Anthony Walker, who has had his squad together for a month in preparation, acknowledged that it was a step into the unknown. “We are travelling to Serbia with a squad that we feel can be competitive and in contention for winning the competition,” he noted. “We have a range of players, from regulars in League 1, some from Super League academies and into the community game and nobody is guaranteed a shirt yet.
“We don’t know what to expect from Ukraine but we can guarantee they will be a big physical side. We want to concentrate on our own performance and to lay a foundation with tough, aggressive defence that teams will find hard to break down.”
WRL would like to thank RAF St Athans for all their help in the lead up to this tournament. They recently had a weekend training camp there (picture enclosed below with Wing Commander Steve Rowley) and Sergeant Rob Simon from the Physical Education Section believes that Wales could go all the way to the Final.
He said: “I thought last week went very well, with the boys getting together and you could feel the excitement building to that first game on Sunday. I really think you have a great opportunity to go out and win it. Pob lwc”
The inaugural European Youth Championships were staged in France in 2006 with Wales finishing fourth and the hosts winning the final in Barcares near Perpignan, sweeping aside England with a side that contained current Catalans Dragons stars, Mickael Simon and Vincent Duport.
Two years later, in Prague, and with the age level at U18, Wales were triumphant, defeating France 38-24 in the final with future Super League players and full Wales internationals Dalton Grant, Joe Burke, Rhys Williams and Gil Dudson in their victorious line up.
Wales U19s was formed in 2002 and played for five seasons before restructuring as U18s, at which age level they won the previous European Championship, in Prague in 2008. Since the turn of the century, nearly 30 players have graduated through the junior WRL ranks and gone on to win full caps, including UK Super League players: Ben Evans, Ben Flower, Elliot Kear, Lee Williams, Lloyd White, Michael Channing, Regan Grace, Rhodri Lloyd and Rhys Evans in addition to Grant, Burke, Williams and Dudson.
Tournament Director, Jovan Vujosevic said: “This is an historic moment for the development of the rugby league in Europe. I was involved in both the previous youth tournaments and Tournament Director for the U16 European Championships in 2007 and 2009, and have seen the sport grow at youth level.
“It is a significant moment to see this level return and I anticipate it will be the start of new chapter in European rugby league history and that more nations will join in future. A greater number of youngsters than ever before are playing the sport across Europe and national governing bodies have recognised the need for this level of competition domestically, because these young players are the future.”
All matches are being streamed live on Serbian TV at //www.sportuzivo.tv/v2/. Please go to https://rugbyleagueu19euro.com/fixtures/ for kick-off time updates.