The RLEF has held its draw to confirm the make-up of the final qualifying groups for European teams for the Rugby League World Cup of 2017 (RLWC 2017).
The draw was carried out by RLIF Chairman Nigel Wood, CEO David Collier and Mohamad Habbous, president of Lebanon Rugby League, who secured their place at RLWC2017 via the Middle East Africa qualifier last weekend.
Three nations will qualify from the two pools: the two pool winnners, plus the winner of a play-off between the two runners up in each pool.
The two pools are made up as follows:
Ireland, Russia, Spain
“It’s a fantastic draw for us,” said Wales RL chairman Brian Juliff.
“It’s certainly not the easiest, we have been keeping a close eye on what Serbia have been doing and have been extremely impressed with their progress.
“The draw gives a clear perspective for the future but it is a very tough road back to the World Cup.
Serbia RL Director Nebojsa Sretenovic insists his country’s team are ready for the tough challenge ahead.
“It would have been very hard whoever we had drawn but, importantly, we have a full year to prepare for the games,” he said.
“We will do our best and are mindful that we could make history by getting to the World Cup proper for the first time.”
According to IRL director Conor Kelly, the pool is not to be taken lightly.
“There is fabulous variety in the teams we play,” he said.
“We go north and south and face Russia again after a while and Spain for the first time.
“This is great for the sport and especially for rugby league in Ireland, it will help to maintain and enhance our place on the sporting map here.”
Spain are relishing the chance to play at a higher level, as the sport continues to progress in the nation.
“This is a massive next step for us,” said Spain RL official Andy Pilkington.
“When the games come around we will only be in our third year so this a huge test playing against full time professional and tier one and two nations.
“I was sending messages back to the boys about who we’d got in the draw and they were going nuts. It will be a really difficult trip to Russia, logistically and playing-wise, but we have overcome Latvia and Greece away and we will go there with an open mind about what we can achieve.
“The Irish will love coming to us especially as Valencia has a big ex-pat population who will rally round.
“This gives us a massive opportunity to develop the sport further in Spain, there is no bigger stage than a World Cup and we will get greater recognition from being part of it – we are looking for these matches to give us a further boost and profile.”
Dimity Belov, president of the ARRLK, is delighted that Russia are involved in the competition.
“It is a really good draw,” he said.
“We are extremely excited to be playing both these nations, one established, the other new.
“It didn’t matter who we played we could not be looking forward to competing more and hopefully earning our place in the 2017 World Cup.”
2017 Rugby League World Cup – European Qualifying Fixtures
Round 1 – 15/16 Oct 2016: Pool A – Wales v Serbia; Pool B – Russia v Spain
Round 2 – 22/23 Oct 2016: Pool A – Serbia v Italy; Pool B – Spain v Ireland
Round 3 – 29/30 Oct 2016: Pool A – Italy v Wales; Pool B – Ireland v Russia
Play Off – 4 November 2016: 2nd Pool A v 2nd Pool B at Leigh Sports Village, England