Shane Richardson�s claims that Great Britain & Ireland should be represented by a single team at the 2008 World Cup have been roundly criticised by players and officials from across the Irish Sea.
The Penrith chief executive claimed last week that including Ireland would damage the credibility of the next World Cup, which is provisionally scheduled for Australia in 2008.
However, his comments have been rubbished by Irish officials and by Wigan winger Brian Carney, who, ironically, was brought into the professional ranks by Richardson during his spell at the helm of Gateshead Thunder.
�I can understand where Shane is coming from,� said Carney, who has been confirmed as guest speaker at the St Patrick�s Day dinner that is being staged by Rugby League Ireland (RLI) and 1895 International at Huddersfield�s George Hotel on March 20.
�A team made up of second generation Irishmen will be questioned, but it�s happened in other sports � like soccer � and the impact that a successful Irish side is able to have is unquestionable. You only have to look at how people embraced soccer when the team was successful under Jack Charlton � even though a large part of the team was made up of second-generation players.
�The same can hopefully happen for rugby league. If people see us going well they�ll hopefully be encouraged to take up the sport, and we have to take full advantage of every promotional opportunity we get.�
Carney also rejected claims by Richardson that, individually, the �Home Nations� would not be competitive at the World Cup.
He added: �We won�t be open to be any hidings. I take the point that a combined GB & Ireland side would perhaps be stronger � but the Lions get the chance to take on the Kangaroos every second year in the Ashes anyway.
�Don�t forget, there�s another four years to go before the next World Cup, so hopefully Ireland will be in an even stronger position by the time of the next World Cup and will be reaping the benefits of our new domestic competition.�
Richardson�s remarks also angered RLI chairman Dave Southern, who sees the next World Cup as a key component in his organisation�s development plan, as it looks to establish rugby league as a major sport in Ireland.
�We�ve got to have the chance to develop the game, and high profile tournaments like the World Cup provide us with the best possible opportunity to do this,� said Southern. �Shane should get a grip. How are we ever going to develop the game in Ireland if we�re denied the chance to showcase our national team on the biggest stage available?�
Southern also endorsed Carney�s view that Ireland will be force to be reckoned with by 2008 and expressed a hope that RLI�s new domestic competition will begin to develop players of the Wigan winger�s ability in the next few years.
"It�s obviously vital that Ireland remains competitive but we�re also keen to promote homegrown talent and will hopefully see more Irish-born players in our squad in 2008.
�We don�t want to be reliant upon the grandparent rule and it�s in our long-term development plan to change the overall make-up of the team, but it�s in our interest to field a team that�s capable of doing Ireland proud, and I�m confident we�re capable of doing that.�
RLI officials remain confident that a new-look domestic competition, based around individual conferences in Ulster, Munster and Leinster will be up and running this summer. In order to help facilitate this ambitious plan, RLI has teamed up with 1895 International to stage a fundraising St Patrick�s Day Dinner at Huddersfield�s historic George Hotel on Saturday March 20. Highlights of the evening will involve Carney�s appearance as guest speaker, as well appearances from other leading Irish players, a memorabilia auction and a traditional Irish band.
Tickets cost �35 each or �400 for a table of 12 and guests can also benefit from a special rate of �50 for a double room at the George Hotel (based on two sharing).
To purchase tickets for the event call 01484 483 154 or contact [email protected]
Anyone requiring further information should contact Rugby League Ireland�s Dave Southern. [email protected]
Rugby League Ireland The Enterprise Centre, Georges Place Dun Loaghaire, Co. Dublin, Ireland tel: +353 1 202 0056 - fax: +353 1 230 10