Russia, Spain and Ireland have begun their preparations for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Pool B European Qualifiers.
Ireland, who have made the quarter-finals in the last three World Cup tournaments, start as favourites, whilst Spain are looking to progress for the first time, and the Russians were last involved in 2000.
Executive director of the Russian federation, Denis Korolev, who took over from ARLK president Dmitry Belov during the summer, commented: “It is a great honour to take part in such a high level competition as the Qualifiers. We understand the importance and responsibility and will do our best, and are very much looking forward to being hosts when Spain come to visit. I hope all the nations will have a great time during this series of exciting games and wish everyone good luck!”
It is something of step into the unknown for the fledgling Spanish. “These matches are exciting times for Spanish rugby league,” said national team manager Matt Dulley.
“We have grown a lot in the last few years and our national squad improves with every game. Going to the RLWC would be a massive step for us and extremely important for making the sport here even more popular. This is our biggest challenge yet and we can’t wait to show the world what we are capable of. The Qualifiers will help our development because it puts us on the map and gives us the publicity we need to continue growing.”
Ireland director Richard Egan is also expecting the Qualifiers to help further aid the profile of rugby league in the Emerald Isle.
“In the build-up, we are continuing to play other developing nations using our domestic players to grow their experiences,” he said. “The World Cup Qualifiers give us a further chance to get more players involved. While the prize is participation in 2017, the real goal is to have rugby league being played by more people and participation in these events is key.
Egan added: “This year we have run an Ireland U16 side for the first time and continued the development of our U19’s and students and these players look to the World Cup as the pinnacle of what they can achieve. Spain and Russia are relatively unknown to us and we are not sure how their squads will be made up. We expect tough games and a lot of passion to make it to the southern hemisphere.”
2017 RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP – EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS
15 October 2016 – Russia v Spain, Fili Stadium, Moscow
22 October 2016 – Spain v Ireland, Polideportivo Quatre Carrares, Valencia
29 October 206 – Ireland v Russia, Carlisle Grounds, Bray