Following their victory over Scotland in Edinburgh last week, Ireland go into game two of the Alitalia European Cup, against England Knights in Belfast this Saturday in an ebullient mood. Wolfhounds coach Mark Aston, feted this week with the Rugby League Writer’s Award for services to the sport, says his side are primed and ready.
“Ireland playing England is always special,” he commented, “and I’m delighted that the fixture will be in Belfast. The Knights are filled with big names, England is one of the world superpowers in rugby league and we will be big underdogs, but that just means a good result will be even better.”
He added, “For the Ireland players that makes this game truly special – it’s a challenge, a responsibility, a test and a huge occasion. Our lads will no doubt want to rip into their opponents from the kick-off, throw everything into each and every tackle, and make it a night for themselves and the fans to savour. We are going to go out there and play as well as we can, leave nothing behind. The England Knights will be very strong, we know that, but we are really looking forward to the challenge.”
Aston is building for the World Cup next year and feels these two games are the ideal preparation. “I have real faith in the players. After the Scotland game, where they played really well and deserved their good win, I could see the passion and the pride they take in representing their country, and also the focus and determination they have to make themselves the best rugby league players and team that they can.
“As a coach that’s the main thing, it’s the most important thing, and it’s what makes working with these guys a pleasure. We have a number of players with different levels of experience, but to see them come together as a group and want to improve together is what it’s all about.”
England Knights coach Kieron Purtill has named a 19-man squad for the clash at Deramore Park, and his side will be captained by Hull FC’s hooker Danny Houghton. In addition, 2012 Stobart Super League Grand Finalists Chris Riley, Mike Cooper, Ben Jones-Bishop and Shaun Lunt are among the likely starters.
“We’ve got a strong squad available and we’re putting pressure on ourselves to win and ensure we keep the legacy of previous Knights teams going,” said Purtill. “Mark Aston got his first win in charge of Ireland last week and they’ve got the upper hand in the competition now so we have to go over there and make sure we get a result. That’s not going to be easy.
“Scotland were favourites for that game and we’ve watched the video and Ireland put in a very good performance. They have a lot of good pros like Liam Finn, who knows how to control a game, Tryone McCarthy and Greg McNally who add skill and guile and they have other threats all over the field.”
Purtill continued, “We’re focusing on playing our game though. We are a big team and we’ve talked about making sure we get off to an aggressive start and build on that and hopefully the result will follow.”
Matty Hadden (Antrim Eels), Simon Deevy (Athboy Longhorns), 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), Sam Wellens (Ireland Students), Stuart Littler, Gregg McNally (Leigh Centurions), Joshua Toole (Mounties), Colton Roche (Sheffield Eagles), Aaron McCloskey (Treaty City Titans),Tim Bergin (Sheffield Eagles), James Mendeika, Tyrone McCarthy (Warrington Wolves), Carl Sice (Whitehaven RLFC), John O'Donnell (Wigan Warriors)
Tom Burgess, Luke Gale (Bradford Bulls), Daryl Clark (Castleford Tigers), Greg Eden, Michael Lawrence, Shaun Lunt (Huddersfield Giants), Danny Houghton (c), Jordan Turner (Hull FC), (Hull FC), Scott Taylor (Hull KR), Chris Clarkson, Ben Jones-Bishop (Leeds Rhinos), Kieran Dixon, Dan Sarginson (London Broncos), George Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jodie Broughton (Salford City Reds), Mike Cooper, Rhys Evans, Chris Riley (Warrington Wolves), Jack Hughes (Wigan Warriors)