The format has been announced for an expanded and more meaningful Rugby League European Federation European Shield in 2012-3.
The competition will now take place over two years with the four selected nations playing each other home and away. The side finishing bottom of the league will be relegated to the European Bowl, with the winner from that tournament taking their place in 2014-5.
Pending RLIF confirmation of the format for the 2017 RLWC, the RLEF has proposed that the 2014-15 Shield acts as a qualifying tournament.
The dates for the opening six matches in 2012 have been formally agreed among the competing nations; holders Germany, 2013 World Cup Qualifiers Italy, Russia and Serbia and it will effectively be a ‘Champions League’, bringing together the countries who have previously won the tournament – Serbia in 2007, 2010 (West); Italy 2008, 2009; Russia 2010 (East) and Germany 2011.
Interestingly, none of those nations went on to defend their titles because of the changing formats of the competition.
Dan Stocks Head Coach of the current champions Germany, who begin the competition on the 12th May at home to Serbia, commented, “We are very much looking forward to playing in the new look European Shield over the next two years.”
“We are well aware that our opponents have all had the experience of the world cup qualifiers recently, however, we are pleased with the steps we are taking and believe it’s only right that we test ourselves against the strongest teams possible.”
“The lads that played in the win against Malta in the summer all valued their experience massively and are desperate for the new year so they can get back into rugby league training, improve and stake a place in the squad for 2012″.
For Carlo Napolitano, Head Coach & Technical Director of the likely favourites, Italy, there is a different imperative.
“The European Shield is a very important cog in our lead up to the World Cup in 2013,” he said. “It will be an opportunity for us to ensure our domestic development structure is working and allow those players to represent Italy at a higher standard.”
Serbia supremo Marko Janković added, “This is the first time since we competed internationally that we have known our schedule this much in advance. It is great to have our fixture list confirmed and now it is easier to plan both our domestic and representative activities.”
“The opposition is now better known because we played against all three last year. Each team will host and tour the other nations over the next two years which gives us equal opportunities. “
Edgard Taturyan, President of the Russian Association of Rugby League Clubs concurred. “We were missing such a tournament with a transparent, understandable schedule which permits long-term planning and training for the Russian national team,” he noted.
RUGBY LEAGUE EUROPEAN FEDERATION – EUROPEAN SHIELD 2012 FIXTURES
12th May 2012 – Germany v Serbia
19th May – Germany v Russia
9th June – Serbia v Italy
7th July – Italy v Germany
8th September – Russia v Italy
22nd September – Russia v Serbia
These fixtures will be reversed in 2013, dates to be confirmed.