The match day squads have been confirmed for the first round of games in the final European qualifiers for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
Next Saturday (26 October), Spain face Ireland in Valencia (5pm kick off) in Pool A, Italy completing the group, and Scotland host Serbia in Glasgow (3pm) in Pool B, Greece the other contenders.
The top two nations in each pool will appear in the final tournament in England.
Spain – like Serbia and Greece – are looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time and have already progressed further than in previous qualifying tournaments, although their squad is arguably the most inexperienced.
Full back Daniel García commented: “I’m excited to go into these games and show the world what we can do. We will be considered as the underdogs which we will use to our advantage, there’s a real buzz in the camp and we all can’t wait to get out there and put on a show. For me personally, it means the world to me being here playing for my country.”
Ireland include Ronan Michael, who has just signed his first professional contract with Huddersfield Giants from Longhorns, whilst Tyrone McCarthy comes into the games fresh from competing in the Super League Grand Final with Salford.
With a decade of service to the national team at senior level - and captain of the Ireland U19's at the first European Championships in 2006 - McCarthy is looking forward to the challenge ahead. “It would be great to secure a place at RLWC2021,” he said. “We know it's going to be tough playing Italy and Spain but we are confident. There's is no better feeling than representing your country on such a stage and it's one many of our younger players are eager to experience, I really can't wait.”
His Salford team mate Alex Walker lines up for Scotland, who will also be looking to half back prodigy Callum Mclelland, the Leeds youngster taking Featherstone to the recent Championship Grand Final on dual registration.
Bravehearts’ captain Dale Ferguson noted: “It’s always an honour to pull on the tartan and I’m looking forward to playing against two tough opponents. We desperately want to qualify again for the World Cup and will be doing all we can to make sure that happens.”
Serbia replace Russia in the qualifiers and are under a new coach in vastly experienced Stuart Wilkinson. They include six players from Red Star Belgrade who have just won their third consecutive Balkan Super League title.
Skipper Stevan Stevanović claimed: “Having a new head coach with such a background has practically changed everything in our team. Stuart’s approach was definitely something new for us. He has brought a lot of knowledge and motivation meaning we are much better prepared both tactically and physically. We expect a lot from ourselves and we are hoping that we will prove it on the field.”
SPAIN 22-MAN TOURNAMENT SQUAD
Luc Franco, Gaetan Estruga, Maxime Garcia, Simon Juárez (Albi RL), Romain Franco (Catalans Dragons), Anthony Delgado, Alexis Escamilla, Julien Agullo, Romain Pallares (Carcassone), Daniel Garcia (Crosfields), Antonio Puerta, Juan Mudarra, Rafael Garcia (Custodians RL), Walid Bouregba (Lezignan), Alex Doutres (Palau), Kevin Aparicio (Rennes etudiant club rugby) Miguel Blanco- Charters (Seaton Rangers), Hadriel Mehamed Gonzales, Miquel Tomas Enrique (Torrent Tigres) Ludovic Renu (VARL), Adria Alonso, Carlos Font (Xativa Roosters)
IRELAND 22-MAN TOURNAMENT SQUAD
Sam Cullen (Barrow Cudas, Carlow), Michael Ward (Batley), Joe Keyes (Bradford), Martyn Reilly (Dewsbury), Matthew Towey (Galway Tribesmen), Oliver Roberts, Ronan Michael (Huddersfield), Ethan Ryan (Hull KR), Gregg McNally (Leigh), James Mulvaney, Matthew Coade (Longhorns RL), Roland Podesta (Manly), Danny Bridge, Zack McComb (Oldham), Tyrone McCarthy (Salford), James Bentley (St Helens), Frankie Halton (Swinton), Bob Beswick (Toronto), George King (Wakefield), Pat Moran (Warrington), Liam Byrne (Wigan), Dec ODonnell (Workington)
SCOTLAND 22-MAN TOURNAMENT SQUAD
David Scott (Batley Bulldogs), Brandan Wilkinson (Doncaster), Lewis Clarke (Edinburgh Eagles), Matt Hogg (Edinburgh Eagles/Newcastle University), Scott Plumridge (Glasgow RL), Ben Kavanagh (Halifax), Danny Addy, Will Oakes (Hull KR), Davey Dixon, Kieran Moran (Keighley Cougars), Nick Glohe (Lakes United Seagulls), Callum Mclelland (Leeds Rhinos), Ben Hellewell (London Broncos), Dan Turland (Murwillumbah Mustangs), Sam Luckley (Newcastle Thunder), Adam Walker (Salford), Luke Douglas (St Helens), Oscar Thomas (Swinton Lions), Ryan Brierley (Toronto Wolfpack), Alex Walker (Wakefield Trinity), Joe Mclean (West Wales Raiders), Dale Ferguson (Unattached)
SERBIA 22-MAN TOURNAMENT SQUAD
James Mirceski (Asquith Cheetahs Magpies), Jason Muranka (Keighley Cougars), Ilija Radan (Narabeen Sharks), Dragan Jankovic, Dzavid Jasari, Nikola Srbljanin (Partizan Belgrade), Lazar Zivkovic, (Radnicki Nis), Aleksandar Djordjevic, Milos Zogovic, Predrag Keglic, Stefan Nedeljkovic, Vladislav Dedic, Vojislav Dedic (Red Star Belgrade), Zane Bijorac (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Daniel Marjanovic (Sydney University), Stevan Stevanovic (Tasmajdan Tigers Belgrade), Milos Calic (Villefranche XIII), Vladica Nikolic (Villenueve XIII), Vladimir Milutinovic (Villeneuve Minervois XIII), Daniel Burke (Warilla Gorillas), Ben Stevanovic, Rajko Jankovic (West Tigers)