John Kear Hoping For Wales To Honour Their Rugby League History As World Cup Kicks Off

Wales rugby league coach John Kear. Pic: Getty Images.

John Kear Hoping For Wales To Honour Their Rugby League History As World Cup Kicks Off

By Gareth James

John Kear insists Wales will not be short of motivation when they begin their Rugby League World Cup campaign next week.

The tournament – which starts this weekend – gives Wales four days to test the temperature of the event before they dip a toe in with their Pool D opener against the Cook Islands on Wednesday.

For head coach Kear that means a few extra days to prepare his squad for a competition few will give them much hope of making a significant mark in.

It’s a long time since Wales reached the semi-finals of the tournament back in 1995, with a team bolstered by the best recruits that could be mustered at the time from the ranks of rugby union.

Those were the days of Jonathan Davies, Scott Quinnell, John Devereux, Iestyn Harris, and Anthony Sullivan – a squad blessed with know-how as well as brimful of talent.

They made the last four of the World Cup again in 2000, but since then tournaments have been tougher and this year they will do well to emerge from a pool that also includes Papua New Guinea and Tonga.


But Kear insists there is plenty to strive for and tells Sky Sports, “The first one is to make sure you do your family, your heritage and your place of birth proud, and if they do that we can challenge.

That opening game for Wales is in Leigh next Wednesday and Kear promises: “We’ll certainly play very, very well against the Cook Islands – I’ve no doubt about that.

“We’ve forgotten about the other two in our group until we come around to playing them.

“We know they’ve got some good players, but we’ve got some good players too and we’re relishing that challenge.

“If we win one game, then that’s a gain, but if you win one then you never know what it does to the confidence and self-belief of the players.

“We’ll address it after that, but our focus is get win one and then we’ll look at the rest of the competition.”


Kear is overseeing the Dragons again after having been in charge for their 2017 World Cup campaign and although injury has robbed rugby union-bound Regan Grace of a World Cup send-off in the 13-man code with Wales, the squad has some Super League presence with Rhys Williams and Kyle Evans, plus Caleb Aekins and Luis Roberts fresh from helping Leigh Centurions to promotion.

“Any World Cup is a life experience and it’s great to be involved with these great elite athletes of this sport – and that’s what we are,” Kear said.

“I want my players to enjoy it, first of all, and I want them to make sure they commit themselves to every practice and team meeting and every game.

“If I can see that and am convinced that’s what they’ve done, I walk away shaking their hands and feeling pretty happy about it.”

Kear’s side is made up largely of Championship and League 1 players, but the father of skipper Elliot Kear is proud of the pathways that Wales Rugby League have got in place now, so they can produce more Welsh-born talent for future World Cups.

“When we had elite rugby union players in 1995 and 2000 like Jonathan Davies turning to rugby league because it was professional, they could get to the semi-finals.


“Since then, we’ve had to re-look at ourselves and we’ve had to try and grow our own. There are 12 of the 24 in the squad who are Welsh-born.

“We’ve got systems and structures in place like Under-16s, Under-19s, Wheelchair and Women’s, so we are growing our own.

“An incremental goal for us would be to win a game. We didn’t get out the group stages in 2013 and 2017, we didn’t even qualify in 2008, so if we pick up a win, then you never know what happens to a player’s confidence and belief.”

Wales’ first group game against the Cook Islands in Leigh on Wednesday 19 October.


Further group games follow against Tonga (Monday 24 October, St. Helens) and Papua New Guinea (Monday 31 October, Doncaster).

The squad in full is:

Caleb Aekins (Leigh Centurions), Bailey Antrobus (York City Knights), Gavin Bennion (Rochdale Hornets), Joe Burke (West Wales Raiders), Chester Butler (Bradford Bulls), Mike Butt (Swinton Lions), Connor Davies (Workington Town), Curtis Davies (Whitehaven), Rhys Evans (Bradford Bulls), Will Evans (Whitehaven), Kyle Evans (Wakefield Trinity), Ben Evans (Bradford Bulls), Dan Fleming (Featherstone Rovers), Matty Fozard (Widnes Vikings), Dalton Grant (London Broncos), Tom Hopkins (Barrow Raiders), Elliot Kear (captain – Bradford Bulls), Rhodri Lloyd (Swinton Lions), James Olds (Valley Diehards), Ollie Olds (Valley Diehards), Josh Ralph (Mounties), Luis Roberts (Leigh Centurions), Anthony Walker (Bradford Bulls), Rhys Williams (Salford Red Devils).


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