Widnes Vikings will participate in the 2004 Rugby League International Federation World Sevens competition in Australia instead of an England representative side, according to a RFL press release today.
The RFL has stated the decision has been taken to allow a club side to play in the World Sevens after consideration had been given to the possibility of sending a representative team. An England Select side comprising 12 players from each Tetley's Super League club took part in last year's tournament.
Wigan Warriors were the last British club to take part in the tournament and finished as winners in 1992.
Widnes Vikings' entry has been approved after the club indicated both a strong desire to take part and confirmed that it would be staging its pre-season warm weather training in Australia from mid-January onwards.
Commenting on the decision, RFL Executive Chairman Richard Lewis said: "We are delight that Widnes Vikings will fly the flag for British Rugby League in the World Sevens. It is fitting that one of our leading clubs should be competing against teams from Australia's NRL competition in what is a tremendous event. We certainly hope that Widnes can emulate Wigan by winning a spectacular and exciting tournament.
He added: "The Sevens also provides great opportunities for many developing Rugby League nations and these teams certainly contribute to the overall festival feel. Colin Love [Chairman of the Rugby League International Federation] and I discussed all the various possibilities for British entries in the World Sevens and we agreed that for 2004 Widnes Vikings were the most appropriate option".
Widnes Vikings Director of Football Neil Kelly hoped the club could be the latest team from the UK to bring back a trophy from Down Under. He said: "After two seasons in the Tetley's Super League, it is great for the club to be playing in a competition such as this. Participating in the Rugby League World Sevens gives Widnes the kind of international recognition we feel the club deserves".
Kelly added: "We will represent Britain with pride and I am sure we will give a good account of ourselves".
The Vikings have also confirmed that the World Sevens will be the first time that Aaron Moule - recently signed from Melbourne Storm - will be in action for the club.
The tournament takes place in Sydney, Australia on the weekend of January 24th and 25th 2004. The qualifying competition takes place earlier in the week.
The news may be considered disappointing by some British fans, who would have been hoping that England could of gone one step better than their 2003 performance which saw them only lose to Parramatta in the final of the tournament.