We're not here to make up the numbers: Briers
Wales captain Lee Briers insists his side can make an impact on their debut in the Gillette Four Nations and New Zealand skipper Benji Marshall agrees.
The Welsh have flown largely under the radar in the build-up to the tournament and have been made the 100-1 rank outsiders by the bookmakers.
Briers, who will lead his side into battle against England at Leigh Sports Village on Saturday, insists the Dragons are not in the competition to simply make up the numbers.
"Nobody is mentioning Wales," he said. "It's like it's a Three Nations.
"That's fine by us. We don't want to shout from the rooftops, we want to earn respect and, hopefully the next time it comes around, people will be talking about Wales.
"We're definitely not here to make up the numbers. We've gone through a really tough programme to get here.
"To win the European Cup last year was I thought an unbelievable achievement and we're here to put us on the map."
The withdrawal of dual-code international Thomas, who on Tuesday announced his retirement at the age of 37, will heap even more responsibility on the shoulders of Briers, who will win his 21st cap on Saturday.
The 33-year-old Warrington stand-off will be Wales' key man but he is determined not to be suffocated by the weight of expectation.
"I can't win a game on my own, it needs all 17 players, in fact, the full 24-man squad plus the coaches, to do that," he said.
"But there is no pressure on us. I guarantee nobody knows 80% of the Welsh squad - imagine if we won one game how much pressure would be on the other team!"
Wales will rely heavily on an eight-strong contingent from the now-defunct Crusaders Super League team.
"We've got less part-timers than we've had in the past but it's a massive step," added Briers, who qualifies through a Welsh grandmother.
"A lot of the Crusaders boys are born and bred in Wales but most have only been playing rugby league since they were 18 and most are only 22 or 23 now.
"Five years is not a long time in any profession, never mind rugby league, and when you're coming up against the best in the world, it makes it tough.
"But they are the challenges as professional players you like to get up for. Stranger things have happened in the world than one rugby league team beating another rugby league team."
Wales have received encouragement from an unexpected source, with Kiwis captain Marshall expecting strong performances from both northern hemisphere teams.
"I think it's going to be a great tournament," Marshall said.
"Wales qualified by beating France, and France the other night (against England) showed what a quality team they are.
"I think some people feel Wales are here to make up the numbers but I think they will test some teams and I think England probably have one of the strongest squads they have ever had."
Briers, who sat out Wales' warm-up match against Ireland last Saturday, is immensely proud to lead his country for what he expects will be his international swansong.
"It's the proudest moment of your career, captaining your country," Briers said.
"It probably will be my last series. It would be belting to go out on a high - if not, I might go around next year.
"This Four Nations is a building block for the 2013 World Cup and hopefully someone can take on the mantle from me and use the experience from this year and next year and take it into that."