ENGLAND, Scotland and Wales are among the seven teams contesting the 2017 Wheelchair World Cup, which is taking place in France over the next fortnight.
The home nations join the host country, together with Italy and Spain, in battling for a place in the final at Perpignan on Friday 28 July.
The competition gets underway on Thursday (20 July) in Carcassonne, when Wales will meet Australia, while Scotland take on Italy and England face France.
England, coached by Martyn Gill and Mark Roughsedge, are the reigning Four Nations champions and secured the European Championship in 2015. The squad, captained by Jack Brown, whose Halifax team-mate Wayne Boardman is vice-captain, is: Jack Brown, Wayne Boardman, Harry Brown (all Halifax),
Jodie Boyd-Ward, Nathan Collins, Tom Halliwell, Ryan Richardson, James Simpson (Leeds Rhinos), Sebastian Bechara (Catalan Dragons), and Adam Barnett, Joe Coyd, Martin Lane (Medway Dragons).
Lyndsey Northeast is Sports Therapist, Andy Gardner is Team Manager and Martyn Coyd MBE oversees the operation as Wheelchair Rugby League Chairman.
Coyd said: “This is tense and exciting and it is a huge privilege to be involved.
“2015 was a magical year. Winning the inaugural European Championships, and beating France in the final, was special and unexpected by some, but a huge reward for a great effort from the players, coaches, support staff and the incredible supporters who helped roar the team to victory.
“But the last 16 months have seen standards raised. The things that were good before were no longer good enough – and that helped lead us to the Four Nations title.
“Our game had to go to a much higher level; the coaches have been challenged to test and push our players. Attitude will be key and we know what we need to do to be successful.”
Interest in the competition is high in Wales, with BBC Wales having previewed the tournament. Team manager Mark Jones said: “Wales Wheelchair Rugby League have been rebuilding over the four years of my tenure. We have gone from fourth place in the home nations to second and, although underdogs, are now seen as a threat to the stronger national teams.
“We retained the Celtic Cup for a second successive time earlier this year, beating Scotland and Ireland, while in 2016 Wales finished second in the Four Nations Tournament in Rochdale.
“We will travel to the World Cup in confident mood. The players are self-funded, and some have been fortunate enough to attract personal sponsorship, while the team has had fantastic support from DAG Engineering, North Wales Crusaders Supporters Club, Offa Community Council, (Ginger) Mike Hughes and a number of other individual donations.”
He continued: “However we have no major sponsor and the financial aspect has been hard – some players cannot travel due to work commitments and financial constraints – but those travelling will proudly pull on the red shirt and yell `CYMRU’ before facing Australia, France and England in the Pool stages.
“We may be underdogs, but we will fight to do Wales proud.”
The squad is made up entirely of North Wales Crusaders players, other than Gary Preece (Hereford Harriers) and comprises: Mark Williams (captain), Andrew Higgins, Harry Jones, Stuart Williams, Gary Preece, Claire Cranston, Gary Taylor, John Doyle and Alan Caron. Steve Jones, of the Crusaders, is coach.
Scotland’s squad is Graeme Stewart, Michael Mellon, Jay Anderson, Ronnie Robb, David Birtles (all Dundee Dragons), Connor Blackmore (player/coach – Strathmore Silverbacks) and Gavin Dobson (Halifax).
Thursday 20 July: Australia v Wales; Scotland v Italy; France v England (all at the Halle aux Sport, Carcassonne)
Saturday 22 July: Wales v England; Spain v Italy; France v Australia (all at the Complexe La Rijole, Paimers)
Monday 24 July: Scotland v Spain; France v Wales; Australia v England (all at the Gymnase du Lac, St-Jory)
Tuesday 25 July: Finals – games one and two (at Gymnase du Cosec, Albi)
Wednesday 26 July: Finals – games three and four (at Gymnase Compans Cafferlli, Toulouse)
Thursday 27 July: Plate Final and Fifth-placed Final (at Gymnase du Cosec, St-Orens)
Friday 28 July: World Cup Final (at Parc des Expositions, Perpignan)