Wales have named a 20-man squad for their rugbyleague.com European Cup campaign which kicks off this Sunday when they take on Serbia in Smederevo (kick-off 2pm).
The following week they face Ireland at Sardis Road, Pontypridd in a likely group decider, in a match to be shown live on Sky Sports, with the tournament climaxing a week later with European Cup Finals day at the Brewery Field in Bridgend.
Coach Iestyn Harris’ squad contains 15 of the 17 that took the field against England last Saturday and Craig Kopczak and Anthony Blackwood, who both picked up knocks during that game, have been put on a four-man stand-by list that will be used in case of injuries.
Newcomers Ross Wardle and Lewis Mills are two of 12 Crusaders named in the squad, while fellow potential debutant, Bridgend Blue Bulls’ Christiaan Roets, has also played two games for Celtic Crusaders’ reserves side. In addition, Central Comet’s Ian Webster, who has won four caps for Wales, is a former Crusaders player.
Matt Thomas from London Skolars is the final newcomer. Although aged 28, he is only in his second season as a professional rugby league player, having previously turned out for Co-operative Rugby League Conference side St Albans Centurions.
Harris said: “I’m a little disappointed that a few guys have got injured on the lead up to this tournament but that always happens at this part of the year after a long season. But I am happy with the youthfulness of the squad and the eagerness they have to learn. They will gain a lot of experience from this tournament and will continue to grow.”
“This weekend, we’re travelling into unknown territory. Serbia lost 82-0 to Ireland at the weekend and I haven’t been able to see the video of that game yet. However, I do know that they’ll be physical but raw and we have to be smart. Tactically we’re preparing for the game in a totally different way to how we did for last week’s game against England.”
The Welsh squad leave for Serbia on Friday morning for Sunday’s game and will return on Monday.
“I’m pleased that we’re going to Serbia for a few days,” Harris added. “It’s important that we get there early not just for the sake of professionalism as it’s also crucial that we have a chance to get some time off over there and find out what the country is like. We’ll do the work that we need to do and will prepare for the game properly but we don’t want to flog the legs off the players, they need to be prepared for the match mentally and physically. It’s important that we get a win to set up the group decider against Ireland.”
Young played in 15 consecutive international games from 1991-96 while James has not missed a game for Wales since making his debut against Russia on October 26th 2003.
In addition, if he plays in this Sunday’s game plus the matches against Ireland in Pontypridd on November 1st and the Finals Day game in Bridgend a week later, he will level the 17 consecutive Wales appearances made by Rowland Phillips (1991-98) and Jim Sullivan (1921-35).
The all time consecutive appearance holder for Wales is Bill Francis. He won all of his 19 caps in a row and in the space of five years (1975-80).
Tickets for Wales v Ireland and for European Cup Finals Day can be bought by calling 0845 856 1115 or by going to www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk. Tickets are priced from £5 for juniors and £10 for adults.
WALES SQUAD (v Serbia):
Matt Barron (Gateshead Thunder), Ashley Bateman (Celtic Crusaders), Chris Beasley (Celtic Crusaders), Neil Budworth (Celtic Crusaders), Geraint Davies (Celtic Crusaders), Ross Divorty (Featherstone Rovers), Gil Dudson (Celtic Crusaders), Ben Flower (Celtic Crusaders), Rhys Griffiths (Leeds Met), Jordan James (Celtic Crusaders), Elliot Kear (Celtic Crusaders), Lewis Mills (Celtic Crusaders), Christiaan Roets (Bridgend Blue Bulls), Matt Thomas (London Skolars), Ross Wardle (Celtic Crusaders), Ian Watson (Leigh Centurions), Ian Webster (Central Comets), Lloyd White (Celtic Crusaders), Lee Williams (Celtic Crusaders), Rhys Williams (Warrington Wolves).