International Rugby League will be held in Llanelli for the first time in 16 years when Wales host Serbia in a Rugby League World Cup qualifying match on Saturday 15th October at Parc Stebonheath (kick-off 6pm).
The last time Wales played in this town was in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup when Wales edged out a Hazem El Masri inspired Lebanon side 24-22.
Wales played three full internationals at the Parc Stebonheath ground before the second World War, beating France 41-7 in 1935 in front of a reported 30,000 crowd, before an 18-2 win over the same opponents in 1938 and a 17-9 win over England later that same year. All games were part of victorious European Championship campaigns for the Welsh.
Since the war, the stadium has primarily been used for football as the home of Welsh Football League side Llanelli Town AFC, but since 2015, it has been the fortress of Conference South Rugby League side West Wales Raiders.
Raiders’ director Andrew Thorne is looking forward to hosting such an important event in Wales’ first step to World Cup glory.
“I’m so pleased that the World Cup qualifier against Serbia is being played at Parc Stebonheath,” he said. “Trying to build Rugby League in West Wales has always been tough, but over the last two years with the support of Wales Rugby League, we have managed to grow participation in the sport and now have a junior pathway. With the game coming to Stebonheath, I can only see that this fantastic sport will grow even more in the West.
“This is sure to be a fantastic event and hope that the public in Llanelli and the surrounding areas come and support the Wales team on the start of their World Cup campaign.”
Meryl Gravell, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board member for Regeneration and Leisure, said: “It’s absolutely wonderful to have the Wales Rugby League national side coming to Llanelli to continue the hard work that West Wales Rugby League are doing for the local area.”
Wales are taking part in a three team group this autumn in the attempt to qualify for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup finals in Australia. In addition to the home game against Serbia in Llanelli, Wales will travel to Italy a fortnight later. The winner of the group goes straight through to the finals with the runners up taking on the second place side from Ireland, Spain and Russia in a final challenge in Leigh on November 4th.
Wales coach John Kear is looking forward to his side playing in Llanelli and believes that Serbia will be strong opposition, especially after recently playing a full international match in Australia involving both Serbian and Australian born players.
“It’s exciting that we’re going to South West Wales,” he said. “It’s an area we’ve not played in since the last World Cup in 2013 when we took on Cook Islands in Neath.
“I’m anticipating support and enthusiasm from all the sports fans around the area and I’m sure it will be well attended.
“It’s a big game for us as we need to get to the World Cup, there’s no doubt about that. It’s now getting to knock out proportions so every game is very important.
“Serbia are looking to strengthen and that’s why they played their recent international match against the Philippines in Australia through that. Brian Smith is with them too and he’ll make sure they will be well drilled. They will be a formidable challenge for us.”
Wales Rugby League have had links with Llanelli for over 100 years. No less than 46 players who have turned out for Llanelli RUFC or the Scarlets have played Rugby League for Wales, while at least 15 WRL internationals were born in Llanelli. This is something that Wales Rugby League chairman Brian Juliff is keen to celebrate.
He said: “I am thrilled that we are playing this game in Llanelli as it presents us with a great opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding heritage players that originated from West Wales.
“Supporting Andrew Thorne and his team of administrators and players as they continue to develop Rugby League in the region is a real pleasure, as I am fully aware of the huge amount of hard work and enthusiasm these volunteers bring to Wales Rugby League.
“Wales are the current European Rugby League Champions but we are very aware of the changing playing personnel that we will face in both qualifying games against Serbia and Italy due to our opponents’ intentions to field Australian based heritage players.
“We will, of course, stay strong to our belief that playing home grown players will continue to pay long term dividends and promote a sustainable and successful Wales Rugby League team.
“On that basis alone it would be hugely encouraging if our local supporters could fill the stadium and cheer our boys to success in this important first game. Cymru Am Byth!”
Tickets for Wales v Serbia at Parc Stebonheath in Llanelli on Saturday 15th October will be on sale from April.