byline: Ian Golden (Wales RL)
Rugby League’s Executive Chairman Mark Rowley has said that qualifying for the next season’s rugby league Four Nations tournament is bigger than Wales Rugby Union winning the Six Nations.
Rowley was in France watching Iestyn Harris’ underdogs beat France 12-11 in Albi to retain the Alitalia European Cup and qualify to face England, Australia and New Zealand next year.
Lloyd White’s penalty sealed a dramatic contest for Wales right at the death after skipper Gareth Thomas and North Wales youngster Rhys Williams scored the Welsh tries earlier in the game.
“This is massive for Wales Rugby League,” said Rowley. “Some people have compared it to winning the Six Nations in rugby union but I think it’s bigger. We are now in the elite of Rugby League and are the top four nations in the world. This is a massive boost for Rugby League in the Principality and we look forward to welcoming England, Australia and New Zealand next year. The win shows how far we’ve come in such a short time. It’s our biggest achievement ever.”
Dual code international coach Iestyn Harris knows that the hard work is just about to begin for him and his charges.
“I’m very, very pleased,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for Wales Rugby League. What was important to us was to win this competition. The benefits of it will come into fruition for Wales Rugby League over the next 12 months. It’s up to the powers that be now to decide whether we get a mid-season test against one of the big three and there’s the prospect of the Four Nations after that. It’s extremely pleasing to have won.
“To beat an extremely good French team full of Super League standard players on their own soil is an achievement in itself. Now for Wales Rugby League – which has gone through some dark times over the past four or five years – to be in an elite World competition next year with the three best nations is a testament to everyone involved. That includes the people going into the schools in Wales to teach children Rugby League and the junior coaches for what they’ve achieved with the youngsters coming through. If we keep improving, who knows where we can go?
“It was a tough game today, full of intensity. France came back at us and were close to winning the game, but Lloyd White held his nerve. It was a fitting finish with Lloyd kicking the goal to give us the victory because he was our stand-out player in this tournament. It’s important he keeps working hard and doing the little things right and if he keeps heading in the direction he’s going in, the sky’s the limit for him as it is for all of us.”