After we reported last week that a record number of players took part in rugby league in Wales in 2022, we’d like to reflect on the successes that those players achieved, be that trophy wins or participation at a high level.
Internationally, we ran eight sides and played 35 international matches. The Wales Wheelchair side played the most matches – eight in total – as they gripped the nation when playing at the Rugby League World Cup, reaching the semi-finals. They also won the Celtic Cup for the sixth successive time and cemented their place in the world’s top four nations. A tour to Brazil is now awaiting them early next year, where they’ll play their 50th international match, having celebrated ten years of playing in 2022.
The Wales Women‘s side also tasted trophy success as they won the European Championship B North competition in the first year that this has been held. Ranked in the world’s top ten nations, they’ll now play in a World Cup qualification tournament next year.
The Wales Physical Disability Rugby League side made their debut, playing in the World Cup and finished third, and had it not been for a technical slip-up, they could have been in the final against hosts and winners England.
The Wales men‘s side made a comeback after four years away and whilst they were winless in 2022, their performances won many fans. The future of the international side is now being built thanks to a full-time academy for players aged 16-18 at Coleg y Cymoedd and an official link with Super League’s Salford Red Devils.
Wales’ youth international sides are also showing that the future is bright. The Wales U19 side entered the European Cup and finished a justified third place behind the financial powerhouses of England and France.
The Wales U16 side were outstanding, doing the double over England Community Lions, beating them home and away. They also recorded a representative match win over a strong Cumbria Regional Academy giving them three wins from three in 2022.
At the other end of the scale, Wales Masters played in two festivals in 2022. The team for the over 35s fielded former Wales men’s World Cup player Christiaan Roets as well as others who had previously played the community game in Wales.
Finally at international level, we welcomed back the Wales Dragonhearts, and whilst they slipped to defeat in their only match this year, the squad will stay together and train for more matches in 2023.
Rhondda Outlaws winning the final in the south and Flintshire Falcons in the north, with both games being won by just two points. The Outlaws also won the pre-season Nines competition.
Following the league campaign, there was a three-way Origin series between North, East and West Wales, with North taking the trophy after winning both games against their southern-based rivals. Further expansion in the north is planned in 2023 with the appointment of a North Wales Community Coach.
The junior leagues in Wales were again a big hit, with record participation. It all culminated in a finals day at Stebonheath Park in Llanelli, with Aber Valley Wolves winning the U10 Conference Final and the U14 Final. Cynon Valley Cavaliers won at U12 level, whilst the two clubs shared the main U10 Final trophy. Bridgend Blue Bulls won the U16 Final.
As part of our year-long Junior Origin programme, there were representative matches between East and West Wales at two age-group levels with East winning the U14 series 2-0 and West doing like-wise at U16.
In addition, we ran Champion Schools competitions, with a finals day being brought back for the first time in five years with Rhydywaun, Glantaf and Ystalyfera all fielding winning sides. The 2022-23 competition is now bigger than ever with both boys and girls playing for places in the national finals.
Glantaf’s girls beating Archbishop Sentamu Academy from Hull in the Year 8 Final.
Many of these girls will hope to get into the Coleg y Cymoedd Academy, which is run for boys and girls, and will then hope to play for local community clubs and the regional Cardiff Demons side.
Cardiff Demons fielded their first-ever U16 side in 2022, whilst their women took home the Super League South trophy for the second year in succession, beating London Broncos in the final at Cross Keys.
In the Wheelchair game, North Wales Crusaders were triple trophy winners, taking home the RFL Middle 5s trophy, as well as winning two trophies in a day in Wales, their own charity Peacock Cup competition and the inaugural Cwpan Sialans Cadair Olwyn, which was played against Torfaen Tigers.
In the men’s game, North Wales Crusaders and West Wales Raiders competed in the RFL League 1, with the Crusaders reaching the play-offs. Their winger Rob Massam is now approaching 200 first class tries and will be the 19th Welshman to reach this goal should he continue in 2023.
In Masters Rugby League, Cardiff Blue Dragons and North Wales Buccaneers represented both ends of Wales in a number of festivals in both Wales and England.
Finally, we will welcome back the Wales Students international side in 2023 and we are now inviting applications for the coaching and management set-up. Last season, Bangor and Swansea fielded men’s sides in the BUCS leagues, with Cymoedd’s older players plus exiles will also compete for places in the 2023 international set-up.
“As stated before, volunteers are key to our success and we’d like to invite anyone who wants to be involved in rugby league in Wales to contact us directly or go to your local club to play, coach or become a match official. Go to https://wrl.wales/community-clubs for more details.
“I’d like to thank all of the volunteers throughout Wales, our players, coaches, officials, reporters, photographers and everyone else who has helped us have a record-breaking year. We’re delighted at how rugby league has grown in Wales in 2022 and the successes we’ve listed here just proves how hard everyone has worked to achieve their goals.”