Ireland celebrate their Rugby League World Cup win over Italy in Cairns.

Fighting Irish enhance Test reputation

The luck of the Irish? Replace 'luck' with 'skill'.

The Wolfhounds entered the Rugby League World Cup as unknowns but are one of the better-performing sides going into the final pool games.

Ireland defeated Italy and held Papua New Guinea to an 8-6 scoreline until the home side won in the final minutes.

At a fundraiser for Ireland Rugby League last night - held at an Irish pub in Subiaco - coach Mark Aston spoke about how proud he is of his team. They are a close side who, in Aston's words, "train hard and play hard". 

Five-eighth Joe Keyes will get his first start at the World Cup in their match against Wales on Sunday. He says the side's performances might be a surprise for outsiders, but it's not to the players.

"The Irish are known for 'the fighting Irish' - we compete for everything, and we're passionate. You're not playing if it doesn't mean a lot to you," he said. 

"We're a very proud country. I think we've shown that in our last two performances.

"We've got a good core of players who've been in the squad for maybe 10 years, Liam Fin, Scott Grix, Tyrone McCarthy – they've been in the system a long time and leading the way for us."

Keyes has a unique rugby league story. He grew up in the rugby-union heartland of London and got into league through his father, John, who is a passionate supporter of the thirteen-man code.

"He used to volunteer and help out with rugby league in London, and try to grow the game down there," Keyes says of his dad. 

"Ever since I was about three, I used to go and watch the (London) Broncos and eventually played for them, going through the system. He's been a big influence on my career."

John Keyes runs 'Kit for Africa', an organisation that collects rugby league gear from players and clubs and takes it to South Africa.

"They get involved in the community and give them a bit of a lift," Keyes said. 

Keyes wants to continue to uphold his father's legacy and do his family proud.

"My dad's side are all Irish, and they're proud as punch. It's an honour to be able to represent them," he said.

"We can hold our heads high and be proud of our performance at this World Cup. We've surprised everyone with our consistency. 

"We knew ourselves what we were capable of, but it is nice to prove a few doubters wrong. Hopefully can finish strong this weekend."