Wales Rugby League Confident Of Bright Future With Superstar Regan Grace Leading The Way

Wales Rugby League Confident Of Inclusive Future With Superstar Regan Grace Leading The Way

Regan Grace is one of the biggest superstars in the 13 man code and the crown jewel in Welsh rugby league. While many see Grace as the Gareth Bale of rugby league in Wales he is perhaps more of a symbol of the inclusive nature of the sport. Wales Rugby League Chief Executive Gareth Kear chats to Steffan Thomas about the future of the game in Wales.

Welsh star Regan Grace is the talk of rugby league but he also has something in common with the national wheelchair team.

The countdown has begun to next year’s rugby league World Cup tournaments when Wales’ men’s, women’s and wheelchair sides will compete in England.

With the cancellation of the Welsh domestic club season, the 13-man code is now focusing on 2021 and those major tournaments.

While many people would expect there to be a significant financial disparity between the men’s side and the rest, it couldn’t be further than the truth.

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Prolific St. Helens tryscorer Grace is currently one of the biggest names in the world game after his sensational hat-trick of tries against Leeds Rhinos earlier in the season.

But the Port Talbot-born player will be earning the same amount of money as the women’s and wheelchair sides

It’s a prime example of Wales Rugby League’s determination to make inclusivity a central objective for their sport.

“When we compete in the World Cup next year our men, women and wheelchair side will earn the same participation fee,” says Wales Rugby League chief executive Gareth Kear.

“Playing for their country is everything. We want to promote equality and diversity in our game and our fantastic wheelchair side, who are currently ranked third in the world, are just as valuable to us as players who ply their trade in Super League and the NRL.

“We are also very passionate about improving the women’s game in Wales and we are optimistic about how well they can do at the World Cup.”

Historically, rugby league has been a fringe sport in Wales – playing second fiddle to rugby union and football.

There have been numerous attempts to grow league’s popularity in Wales, based on the exodus of top union players from the 15-man game in the 1980s and the formation of the Celtic Crusaders Super League side, who first played out of Bridgend and then Wrexham.

 

But Kear is working hard to create a more sustainable platform for the game in Wales.

Instead of setting outlandish targets such as the creation of yet another Super League franchise, Kear wants to build from the bottom up.

The most important target is to increase participation levels in Wales and to make the 13-a-side code a viable sport to play.

Kear adds: “The one thing we are having is a lot of growth in boys and girls playing rugby league. We are growing year on year.

“That’s one of the factors where rugby union and rugby league are different. Back in the day, you only had one choice and that was union.

“But rugby union has gone in a different direction. It’s about power and size and I think rugby league has gone in a completely opposite direction. It’s about pace, speed and skill.

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“The requirements for both sports are different. In league, we don’t have line-outs, we don’t have competitive rucks and we don’t have competitive scrums.

“If you can run, pass, catch and tackle you can play rugby league. You don’t have to specialise in a position where somebody says you’re a prop, a second-row or a hooker.

“Generally speaking, it’s a sport for all. Before playing rugby union everyone had a game of touch and pass while warming-up.

“Our game is an extension of touch and pass which everybody understands. The women’s game has grown exponentially for us at both junior and senior level.

“My background is elite rugby union where I coached the Cardiff Blues academy and the women’s side. What I’m trying to do is build bridges with union.

“We just want people to consider rugby league as a sport to play. We want people to have that option.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit sport at all levels in Wales and rugby league is no different. But Kear believes the break in play can help rugby league forge a better future.

 

“Covid is a threat to all sports but it’s also an opportunity. I worked on a working party with Sport Wales, the Welsh Government, the Football Association of Wales and a number of other governing bodies.

“This pandemic is unique and none of us have been through anything like this before. In the past rugby league has been marginalised in Wales but being involved and sitting at that table means we can use our expertise to put our points across.

“It’s also meant I’m working a lot closer with the Welsh Rugby Union. As two contact sports we have the same challenges.

“We’ve worked really closely on sharing a lot of technical information and medical information to try and make sure we do the best for everybody.”

All eyes of late have been on Grace who is one of the most talked about players in Super League.

The diminutive runner could sidestep even the best of defenders in a phone box and they wouldn’t lay a single finger on him.

Such has been his impact, many have taken to social media urging the 23-year-old to move to union but Kear can’t see such a switch happening.

 

“Regan’s hat-trick against Leeds was one of the best hat-tricks I’ve ever seen in rugby league.

“He’s obviously going to attract a lot of interest because he’s a terrific player, but Regan absolutely loves playing rugby league for Wales.

“After last season’s Super League final, instead of going out drinking with his teammates he turned up at the airport for a 24-hour flight to Australia to play for Wales.

“That’s how much it means to him. He’s got a massive future in the game and he’s going to be a big part of our plans to do well at next year’s World Cup.”

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