Wales are going into Sunday?s crucial Rugby League European Nations Cup opening match against Scotland at the Brewery Field, Bridgend (kick-off 3pm) in a confident mood writes Ian Golden.
Wales have 24 fit players to choose from which includes ten with Super League experience. Their only injury worries are to Widnes pair, Adam Hughes and Gary Hulse.
The last time Wales were European Champions was in 1995 following that historic 18-16 win over England at Ninian Park and Manly Sea Eagles? Mark Lennon, who has travelled 10,000 miles to play in this match, believes that ten years on, Wales have the experience to reclaim the trophy.
?Lee Briers? influence has been tremendous,? said Lennon. ?He?s been captain of Warrington for a few years now so you can see how good his leadership skills are. As well as all the Super League players, we?ve also got a great bunch of lads from the Welsh Conference training with us. All of them are showing great promise and should bide well for Welsh rugby league if they picked for Celtic Crusaders next year. We?ve got the right combination of youth and experience and I believe we have the necessary talent to win this tournament.?
Swinton?s Ian Sinfield and Bradford?s Alex Szostak are late call-ups to the Scotland squad after the withdrawals of former Scotland captain Wayne McDonald of Huddersfield Giants (personal reasons) and Wakefield Trinity second rower Duncan MacGillivray, who has been told he requires minor surgery on a groin problem.
Both players have forfeited their tickets for the engage Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday night to play for Scotland. Sinfield would have been supporting his brother Kevin who captains Leeds Rhinos while Szostak, who was not selected for Bradford?s final squad, would have been there with his Bulls team-mates. Instead they headed to South Wales on Thursday afternoon.
Both coaches are expected to delay naming their starting line-up until Sunday but if selected, Great Britain under-18 international, Lee Williams of Aberavon Fighting Irish will become Wales' youngest ever senior international.
The European Nations Cup was first held in 1935, with England, Wales and France each playing each other once. Unlike the Tri-Nations series, there was no final; the team finishing at the top of the group was deemed the winner.
The tournament was initially played annually, with the exception of the years of the Second World War. In 1946-47, the tournament was altered, with each team playing each other twice, at home and away. The 1949-50 season saw a return to playing only once, but a new team, "Other Nationalities", was added. This team consisted of players who were not English, Welsh, or French playing in the British and French leagues: Australian, New Zealanders, Scots, Irish players and others all played for this new side.
The 1955-56 tournament had no Welsh team, though Welsh players featured for Other Nationalities. The tournament was not played again until 1969-70. It was revived in 1976, with the three-team format of England, Wales and France playing each other team only once being made standard. The tournament was cancelled after 1981, but it was revived under the same format for 1995 and 1996.
The tournament was revamped for 2003, with Scotland, Ireland and Russia all joining. The new structure saw two groups of three, with the winner of each group meeting in a final. This structure was continued for the 2004 tournament.
From 2004 Scotland, Ireland and Wales had to have at least four 'home grown' players from their domestic competitions in their squad. Effectively this means that at least one home grown player is guaranteed a start.
The 2005 tournament does not include England as a participant; England will instead play matches against France and New Zealand, giving the European Nations Cup a more level playing field. Georgia won the first ever European Nations qualifying tournament in 2005, beating both Serbia and the Netherlands to win a spot in this main tournament.
Wales (from): Lee Briers (Warrington Wolves, Capt), Keith Mason (St Helens), Gareth Dean (Carcassonne), David Mills (Widnes Vikings), Damien Gibson (Halifax), Anthony Blackwood (Halifax), Nick Royle (Rochdale Hornets), Mark Lennon (Manly Sea-Eagles), Bryn Powell (Featherstone Rovers) Aled James (Sheffield Eagles), Byron Smith (Castleford Tigers), Gareth Price (Rochdale Hornets), Ian Watson (Swinton Lions), Jordan James (Castleford Tigers), Phil Joseph (Swinton Lions), Chris Morley (Halifax), Jon Breakingbury (Valley Cougars,) Damien Hudd (Torfaen Tigers), Karl Hocking (Bridgend Blue Bulls), Andy Llewellyn (Aberavon Fighting Irish), Neil Davies (Aberavon Fighting Irish), Scott O'Kelly (Aberavon Fighting Irish), Lee Williams (Aberavon Fighting Irish), Mark Burke (Aberavon Fighting Irish).
Scotland (from): Danny Brough (Hull FC), Andy Brown (Fife Lions), Steve Deviney (Easterhouse Panthers), Ben Fisher (Halifax), Richard Fletcher (Castleford Tigers), Dougie Flockhart (Scotland Students), Andrew Henderson (Castleford Tigers), Wade Liddell (Gateshead Thunder), David McConnell (Rochdale Hornets), Andy McPhail (Clyde Bulls), Iain Marsh (Batley Bulldogs), Gareth Morton (Hull KR), Mick Nanyn (Whitehaven), David Simm (Edinburgh Eagles), Ian Sinfield (Swinton Lions), Jon Steel (Hull KR), Nick Surtees (St Albans Centurions), Alex Szostak (Bradford Bulls), Mike Wainwright (Warrington Wolves), Oliver Wilkes (Leigh Centurians).
European Nations Cup schedule: October 15: France v Russia (Arles) October 16: Wales v Scotland (Bridgend) October 23: Russia v Georgia (Moscow) October 23: Scotland v Ireland (Glasgow) October 29: Ireland v Wales (Dublin) October 30: Georgia v France (Tbilisi) November 5: Final (Carcassonne).
Past Winners 1934-35 England 1935-36 Wales 1936-37 Wales 1937-38 Wales 1938-39 France 1945-46 England 1946-47 England 1947-48 England 1948-49 France 1949-50 England 1950-51 France 1951-52 France 1952-53 Other Nationalities 1953-54 England 1955-56 Other Nationalities 1969-70 England 1976 England 1977 France 1978 England 1979 England 1980 England 1981 France 1995 Wales 1996 England 2003 England 2004 EnglandLike