Elliot Kear has challenged his Wales team-mates to make the most of an unprecedented opportunity to put their sport on the map as they prepare to kick off their Rugby League World Cup campaign against the Cook Islands.
The Bradford back is one of 13 Welsh-born players in a squad managed by the hugely-experienced John Kear – no relation – who have modest expectations of making inroads in a nation in which the rival code clearly reigns supreme.
“Having 13 Welsh-born players in the team is massive for us. It really shows how much rugby league is growing in the country,” said Kear, who made his international and Super League debut 13 years ago.
“We’ve still got a long way to go to keep up with union. But from when I started playing when I was 18, to where the sport is now, it’s grown tenfold and with opportunities like this, it can only keep going in the right direction.
“We’re playing on the biggest stage in the sport and we’re going to be in the shop window. Rugby league is now being played in schools in Wales and a lot of kids are going to get the chance to watch how we get on.”
Elliot Kear: We expect to deliver
Wales, who have not been able to replicate their surprise semi-final appearance in 2000, will name a team blending young and experience, including one of only two uncapped players in Leigh full-back Caleb Aekins.
But Kear’s men face a tough physical burden if they are to advance from the preliminary phase having been joined in Group D by Wednesday’s opponents plus Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
“They’re pretty big,” admitted Kear. “We know it’s going to be a tough group because Pacific island teams bring the usual size and physicality to the game.
“But we’re pretty big too and we’ve got some top-level players and we expect to deliver.”