Wales Rugby League’s Chairperson Janet Ryder has praised the fans, players and coaching staff for their respective support and performance throughout this year’s Gillette Four Nations.
Wales, along with New Zealand, fell at the group stages of the tournament but Janet, a former Welsh Assembly Minister, says that just being in the tournament in the first place has given Rugby League in Wales a magnificent boost.
“First I’d like to thank all of the Wales fans for following us throughout the tournament,” Janet said. “I think the volume of support we had at all of our games does show how well that the game has grown in Wales.
“We’re now running coach loads who are travelling to follow the national team and we’ve got a loyal band of supporters. A lot of people followed us throughout the tournament in Wembley, Leigh and Wrexham and of course in Neath for the Ireland friendly and all that is good for the game.
“We’ve two sides going into Championship 1 next season in South Wales Scorpions and North Wales Crusaders. This will create new competition and a new derby in Wales within itself and it will give our Welsh players the opportunity to gain experience at higher level clubs which will be of benefit to them.
“Those Championship 1 sides are now going to have solid support thanks to the Four Nations. It’s an important season for them with four clubs going up to the Championship at the end of next season and we’re going to need people to get behind those two clubs. The Four Nations will have brought new Welsh support into the game.
“But it’s also good for our community clubs in South and North Wales. You’ve got kids and adults coming in to play and watch the game throughout Wales now from Conwy down to Cardiff and supporting the game at all levels. We’ve already seen it in South Wales where people have become converted to Rugby League and they know how good it is. In North Wales it’s been a shorter journey but we’ve got that core group of supporters who are adamant that they want to watch and follow Rugby League and that will grow and grow too like it has done in the South. Teams like Wrexham Bradley Raiders, a new junior club who played on the pitch before the Australia game, is proof of that.”
Ms Ryder believes that the experience that the playing in the Gillette Four Nations has not only given the current crop of players experience in the big time, but has also provided a knock-on effect to enthuse potential players to want to aim to turn out for Wales in the upcoming 2013 England and Wales World Cup.
“We’ve an awful lot to take away from this whole tournament,” she said. “I think the players who have been in the squad will have learned an awful lot. For some of them I think it was the first time that they’ve been a camp like that, a professional camp, with a top class coach. As for the experience of going out into Wembley, you could see from their faces from the tunnel walking out onto the pitch, that it was special for all of them.
“Then to put on a performance like that against Australia in Wrexham was absolutely amazing, to actually put us into an 8-0 lead to begin with, to have a positive score for us and a nil against Australia on the scoreboard was thrilling to see. It showed that we can put the moves together and cross the line against top opposition and the defence held well too. We got better and better as tournament went on and raised our game more and more. Big credit to Iestyn Harris and the coaching staff for that. Now we need to build on our all round performance going into the 2013 World Cup.
“Many people didn’t think we would be in this tournament in the first place but last year Iestyn coached us throughout a full winning season in the European Cup. Winning that competition and qualifying us for this year’s Gillette Four Nations gave us the kind of experience and preparation for the World Cup that we could only have dreamed off at one point. We really are in a strong point going forward.
“Performances like that and seeing the national team playing so well must reflect to every other level of Rugby League in Wales. Also on Sunday our under 18s had a thrilling win against England Community Lions and that kind of win can only hold well for the future.
“We’re a developing nation in Rugby League terms so this tournament will say to other players in Wales “I can do that, I could actually be in that national squad and I could run out on that World Cup pitch”.
“Hopefully we’ll see more people wanting to get involved in Rugby League next season so we need to make sure now that we have the structures in place and we need to make sure that we have plenty of opportunities at schoolboy and junior level to feed into our clubs at local and national level as that’s where our future stars are going to come from.”