Serbia, Wales and Italy have begun their preparations for the 2107 Rugby League World Cup Pool A European Qualifiers.
The Welsh, current European Champions, start as favourites, whilst the Serbs are looking for a passage to the main tournament for the first time, and the Azzurri are attempting to build on their encouraging showing in 2013.
“Winning European Championship B last year and getting a chance to continue our quest to the World Cup 2017 is history making for Serbian Rugby League.,” said their president Predrag Pantic.
“We are excited and honoured to be in this position but we won’t be fazed by the great opportunity we earned with hard work and dedication.”
Pantic added, “We have come a long way in 15 years, it was not that long ago rugby league enthusiasts in Serbia practiced in a park with no changing rooms, watching Super League and NRL games on tape and dreaming of having a league of its own.
“Now, our national team is close to competing against some of those stars. Part of our plan was also to take every opportunity to learn from the bigger nations, educating not just players but also coaches, referees and management.
“The prime goal for SRL is to be a part of this World Cup but ultimately Serbia wants to become a European mainstay in the decades to come.”
Wales Rugby League is also looking to build structure as well as take their place in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea next year.
According to CEO Chris Thair: “We are geared towards improving the performance of the national team and improving the structure of the domestic league.
“An appearance at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup would provide a platform to do that. We want to gain financial reserves and make sure that 2018 is a turning point for the sport in Wales.
“We aim to accrue the wherewithal to organise a big event for the senior team in 2018 and we want to make them a profit centre for the governing body.”
Thair continued: “We are looking forward to taking our match against Serbia to Stebonheath Park in Llanelli, home of West Wales Raiders, and are delighted by the support we have received from them in promoting the match.
“It is an important period for Wales as we look to build for the future.”
Orazio D’Arro, president of FIRL – Italian Rugby League Federation – expects their game in Monza, as part of a ‘festival of rugby league,’ to also be a turning point for the sport in the country.
“This is an important moment for us and our development, we have prepared well and created a strong and united group of players,” he noted.
“We have worked hard to give stability to our domestic league and, at the same time, tried to create a large, proud, young national squad.
“Making the World Cup would give a strong signal of our intentions and the match against Wales is a showcase.
“We will try that day to show off all levels of the sport to a wide audience in a new sporting city for us, the potential is huge.”
2017 RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP – EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS
15 October 2016 – Wales v Serbia, Stebonheath Park, Llanelli
22 October 2016 – Serbia v Italy, Makis Stadium, Belgrade
29 October 206 – Italy v Wales, Stadio Brianteo, Monza