Kear enthused by Welsh challenges

John Kear is relishing the chance to help with the development of international rugby league, after his appointment as Wales national coach.

The 59-year-old current Batley Bulldogs coach has a wealth of experience on which to call, and makes a welcome return to the international game, having previously coached England and France.

“I’m very excited. I think international rugby league is important for the health of the game, and the development of the game,” he told Love Rugby League.

“I feel very fortunate now to be getting another opportunity to be able to affect that.

“What happened with Wales at the World Cup, I believe, was that a lot of young, inexperienced players gained some very valuable experience.

“I think they experienced a bit of adversity and a bit of toughness that they had to mentally overcome.

“So I think that will stand them in good stead in the future.

“But we’ve got to make sure that that raw potential of the individuals is moulded into a very efficient group, which is a task in itself.”

Kear possesses a reputation for a tough, organised style of rugby. He wants to bring some of his famed efficiency to the Wales squad, as time with players at international level is often curtailed.

The ongoing development work being done in Wales, where rugby league is one of the fastest growing sports, also fills him with optimism.

He is also not one to reject any new recruits who might be tempted into the league fold from rugby union.

“Hopefully what I can bring is an organised, simple game plan, because that’s all you can work on when you’ve got such a small time scale available,” he explained.

“We’re going to be playing the week after the Grand Final, and the European Nations Cup will be finished by November 2, so it’s a very short timescale.

“There are long-term aims and objectives with the Wales squad, but there’s also an immediacy, and the immediacy is the European Championships.

“We need to be efficient, focused, hard-working and very committed.

“When I spoke at length with the board of directors at Wales I was really impressed with the structures already in place, with the playing format, the player pathways, and the plans to develop and enhance it.

“I think that Wales could be a real stronghold of rugby league in the future.

“Obviously, the Conference league sides, the ladies playing, the wheelchair, the students, is all important to that.

“So that we support the two professional clubs within their respective competitions, and can hopefully help them develop enough homegrown Welsh players to get them in Super League in the medium to long-term future.

“If you’re going to go down the mine and look for some diamonds, you’d go round the Wigan/St Helens area, the Wakefield/Castleford area, and in South Wales.

“There is that raw material there, but the the challenge is to first of all recruit it, then develop it to such a standard that it can be competitive to semi-professional and professional level, and ultimately at international level.

“I’m not one of these who pooh-poohs rugby union, I like rugby union, and I watch rugby union.

“You’ve only to see the passion generated by the Welsh people for that sport.

“If we could get even a quarter of that engendered towards the Welsh rugby league team, then I would be absolutely delighted.

“It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.”

The strength in depth of the Welsh national side is also something Kear is relishing.

He added: “Just looking at who played in the last World Cup, you’ve got Ben Flower, Rhodri Lloyd, Gil Dudson, Jordan James from Wigan, Lloyd White at Widnes, Elliot Kear from Bradford, Ben Evans, Rhys Evans, Rhys Williams from Warrington, Craig Kopczak and Larne Patrick from Huddersfield.

“There’s some seriously good players in that lot. So it’s very exciting.

“Also on the periphery, if you do look below and look to homegrown Welsh players, there’s a kid called Connor Farrar, who’s a hooker at the South Wales Scorpions, who really is turning a few heads.”

As for the European Nations tournament at the end of the season, Kear sees France as the main threat, though he knows that the Scots and the Irish will also present stern challenges.

“If the Welsh underachieved in the World Cup, I certainly think the French did,” he said.

“If you’re going to measure strength by homegrown, full-time players, which is one benchmark I’ve got, then the French should be top of our group.

“That’s because they’ve got so many Super League, full-time French players, and they’ve also got a lot of part-time professionals supporting that.

“So they’re going to be a massive challenge.

Scotland were great at the World Cup, you can’t say anything else than that. I thought they were one of the shooting stars of the World Cup.

“And all credit to their coaching staff, and the players who performed for them, they’re obviously going to be a task to beat.

“And Ireland have established themselves as a real tough team to beat, with Mark Aston there.

“So it’s a challenge, but that’s the idea, isn’t it? The idea is in international sport you should have the best against the best.

“If that’s what you’re going to get, then it’s going to make results and performances difficult to come by.”

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