European Championship Preview: Wales

Wales will be looking to put some of the disappointment of last year’s underwhelming World Cup campaign behind them, when they begin their European Championship campaign against Scotland in Workington this Friday evening.

Despite having heaps of Super League players to call on, the Welsh looked to lack structure in attack at the World Cup, and also seemed to lack a little passion and ‘hwyl’ at times.

New coach John Kear, despite being English, has a strong grasp of exactly what a red shirt should mean to a Welshman, and commitment to the cause should not be an issue in this tournament.

The experienced Peter Lupton has been named as skipper, and the 32-year-old will lead his team out at his home club ground of Workington when the Welsh play the Scots.

One former Super League player who will be keen to make an impression is Daniel Fleming, who will be playing for Bradford in 2015 after leaving Castleford.

“There’s a few lads from Scorpions, but that’s not going to take anything away from our play or performance,” he told Love Rugby League.

“We’re going to be playing how we tried to do in the World Cup.

“Obviously it didn’t go as well as we would have liked in the World Cup, so there’s some wrongs to put right.

“Now we’ve found out that the winner of this tournament qualifies for the World Cup, there’s a massive prize at the end of it. We need to play as well as we can.

“They’ve got good squads have Scotland and France. I haven’t managed to see the full Ireland squad yet, but they’ve got lads like Bob Beswick and Gregg McNally from Leigh.

“The squads are probably not favouring us in that way, but it gives us more motivation.”

Sadly for Wales and Kear, the vast majority of their players who are at Super League clubs have not been available for selection. Garreth Carvell was also forced to withdraw with injury, though he will be on the coaching staff for the tournament.

That has meant call-ups for many of the homegrown players coming through the ranks at South Wales Scorpions and North Wales Crusaders, which can only benefit the Welsh game in the long term.

In the short term, certainly for this tournament, it may make winning games difficult, however.

Coach Profile:

John Kear is a wily campaigner who believes in playing a brand of tough, competitive rugby league. Good defence and commitment to the cause will be high on his list of requirements from his players. With bags of experience at every level of the game, a young Welsh squad are lucky to have such a wise old head as leader.

In many ways, Kear could be this Welsh squad’s biggest asset, and there will be none of the complacency which may have marred the World Cup campaign while he is in charge.

“You can’t fault the application and work ethic of the players,” said Kear, after the first training sessions with the squad.

“That’s something that’s pleasing to me as a coach, because if you’ve got that, you can put all the other pieces of the jigsaw together in the fullness of time.

“For these players, being homegrown Welsh, the incentive is to put on a Welsh shirt, and you can sense that in the passion and the application to training.

“They really are literally throwing themselves into everything that we’re doing.

“The big carrot for these players is the Welsh shirt.”

Player to Watch:

South Wales Scorpions hooker Connor Farrer has been earning praise for his form this season in Championship One. Still only 19, he made his senior debut for the Scorpions in 2012.

John Kear thinks very highly of the Pontypridd-born dummy half, and Super League clubs might do well to take a closer look at Farrer, who was shortlisted for the Championship One Young Player of the Year award for the 2014 season.

Love Rugby League Prediction:

This tournament will be a learning experience for many of this young squad, which will stand them in good stead in the years to come. On paper, they look weaker than Scotland and France, but games are not played on paper.

They should still be able to beat Ireland comfortably, but may struggle in their other games. A third-placed finish with some good performances may well be the best they can attain.

WALES SQUAD:

Joe Burke, Dalton Grant (both Barrow Raiders), Byron Smith (Batley Bulldogs), Elliot Kear (Bradford Bulls), Daniel Fleming (Castleford Tigers), Rhys Williams (Central Queensland Capras), Tom Hughes (Coventry Bears), Matty Barron, Ricky Hough (Gateshead Thunder), Izaak Duffy (Gloucestershire All Golds), Ollie Olds (Ipswich Jets, Australia), Jacob Emmitt (Leigh Centurions), Owain Griffiths, Christiaan Roets (both North Wales Crusaders), Yannic Parker (Oxford), Ashley Bateman, Phil Carleton, Paul Emanuelli, Morgan Evans, Connor Farrer, Kyle Scrivens, Jordan Sheridan (all South Wales Scorpions), Matty Fozard (St Helens), Lewis Reece (Toowoomba Clydesdales), Peter Lupton (Workington Town).

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