Recently appointed Rugby League European Federation Chairman Maurice Watkins is eagerly anticipating the start of the Alitalia European Cup, which kicks off this weekend when Scotland take on Ireland in Edinburgh. The Celtic rivals meet at Meggetland on Sunday with both nations using the tournament as a key indicator in their build up to next year’s RL World Cup which is almost exactly a year away.
“This now biennial tournament is an integral part of the RLEF’s calendar and promises to extend the thrills of the 2010 competition, which served up two one-point margins of victory and excitement until the final whistle,” said Watkins. “It is also heartening to see the international game expand into new areas with Edinburgh and Belfast staging matches. The support from those cities and hosting clubs is truly appreciated as rugby league continues to raise its visibility and profile at a time when international competition is very much on the agenda,” he added.
The hosts, under the guidance of assistant coach Dave Rotherham in the temporary absence of Steve McCormack, have had to make a late change with Lee Paterson brought in to replace veteran John Duffy whose back injury forced him to hang his boots up this week. There is a core of experience running through the Scotland ranks. Among those returning are ex-Catalan Dragons hooker Ben Fisher, who will move to London Broncos after the tournament, Huddersfield Giants star Dale Ferguson and former Castleford Tigers prop Paul Jackson, who will play for Whitehaven next year.
Newcomers include the Walker twins – Castleford’s Jonathan and Huddersfield’s Andrew – teenage Leeds Rhinos hooker Liam Hood, who spent the bulk of last season on-loan at Dewsbury and Wigan utility back Shae Lyon-Fraser. Also named in the 20-man squad are four players from Scottish champions Edinburgh Eagles, with the uncapped Dave Vernon, Craig Borthwick and young prop Tom Murray joining Callum Cockburn for the first time.
“We've got a mixture of experience and youth in the squad but they are all so passionate about representing Scotland,” said Rotheram from the Bravehearts’ training camp in West Cumbria, where they will be based for the World Cup. The principle aim is Friday 15th November 2013: the World Cup quarter-final at Headingley. We have to lay the foundations now and we have talked about it today. We need to lay a marker down in this tournament. The players want to win the European Cup. Scotland have never won a senior tournament and if we play to our potential then we feel we can.”
His opposite number, Mark Aston – fresh from guiding Sheffield Eagles to Championship triumph – commented, “We need to improve on what we did earlier on in the year against England Knights. It’s a different squad and a new squad so we are getting to know each other and getting some of the core values instilled in the players leading up to the World Cup.” He added, “We’ve no excuses we will be prepared for Scotland at the weekend. We’ve a good set of blokes who took to training well last night.”
Paul Jackson, Jonathan Walker (Castleford Tigers), Ben Fisher (Catalans Dragons), Craig Borthwick, Callum Cockburn, Tom Murray, Dave Vernon (Edinburgh Eagles), Josh Barlow, Sam Barlow (Halifax), Dale Ferguson, Adam Walker (Huddersfield Giants), David Scott (Hull Kingston Rovers), Liam Hood (Leeds Rhinos), Lee Paterson (Mackay Cutters), Andrew Henderson, Mitchell Stringer, Alex Szostak (Sheffield Eagles), Alex Hurst (Swinton Lions), Shae Lyon-Fraser (Wigan Warriors), Brett Carter (Workington Town)
Matty Hadden (Antrim Eels), Wayne Kerr (Country Cowboys), Elliot Cosgrove (Dewsbury Rams), Tom McKeown (Dublin City Exiles), Liam Finn (Featherstone Rovers), Luke Ambler, Callum Casey, Sean Hesketh (Halifax RLFC), Joel Hinchcliffe, Sam Wellens (Ireland Students), Stuart Littler, Gregg McNally (Leigh Centurions), Joshua Toole (Mounties), Tim Bergin, Colton Roche (Sheffield Eagles), Aaron McCloskey (Treaty City Titans), James Mendeika, Tyrone McCarthy (Warrington Wolves), Carl Sice (Whitehaven RLFC), John O'Donnell (Wigan Warriors)