Wales Rugby League have announced this coaching staff for the 2023 Wales Students side, which is being resurrected for the first time since the Covid pandemic, ahead of Wales hosting the Four Nations on June 10-17 this year.
The new head coach is Craig Fisher (above), meaning that he now has a dual role with Wales Rugby League, as he is already the head coach of the Wales Physical Disability Rugby League (PDRL) side, who he coached to third place in last autumn’s World Cup.
The 42-year old has previously also been involved in the coaching set-ups with North Wales Origin and Wales Dragonhearts. He has also coached at community level for Hindley ARLFC in Wigan, where he won the Rugby Football League’s Community Coach of the Year award in 2018. Professionally, he was recently the head of disability at Wakefield Trinity and now works as a development officer at Rochdale Hornets, which he’ll continue alongside his WRL roles.
His new assistant coaches are Jonathan Burgess and David McArdle.
Burgess (above), 34, played community rugby league for Crosfields ARLFC in Warrington. He moved into coaching with Prestatyn & Rhyl Panthers and was assistant coach with Wales Dragonhearts in 2012. He then moved over to rugby union and coached at Rhyl in their junior section and at Bangor University. He is now the community development officer for the North Wales Crusaders Foundation.
McArdle (above), 34, turned out for Conwy Celts last season after recently moving back to Wales from Western Australia. Over in Perth, he played rugby league and rugby union, assisted coaching with Western Australia schoolboys in both codes, and coached other elite rugby league sporting academies across Australia including the Northern Territory Titans. Also during his time down under, he was head of strength and conditioning at North Beach Sea Eagles, and was a strength and conditioning coach with the Australia Lacrosse Association and at West Perth Australian Rules Football Club. Before moving to Australia, he played rugby union at Llandrillo College where he studied his BTEC in Sport Development and Fitness then at Cardiff Met where he achieved his BSc in Sport and Physical Education.
Finally, the team manager is Lee Irvine (above). The 37-year old is currently an assistant head co-curricular working in an independent school in Oxfordshire, England. Previously, he held positions as head of rugby, head of sport and director of sport at some of the country’s best independent schools. He has managed and supported over 20 different sports in schools throughout his career and holds a degree in Sports Studies, Heath and Exercise, a National Diploma in Sports Development and Coaching, a National Diploma in Sports Psychology, a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Wales, and a Master’s in Education with Leadership. He’s also previously worked as an assistant coach in rugby union at London Welsh, Oxford Harlequins, Ospreys U16 and Bedford Blues U19.
Fisher said: “I think after the success of the PDRL World Cup, it opened my eyes to what I want to create with Wales Rugby League. I want to establish environments where my players and staff can all feel comfortable, learn from each other and perform honestly.
“Part of my reasoning for taking the job was to give this programme the same attention and environmental feel as we had in last year’s World Cup, given especially that the student programme didn’t run in 2022, so it was imperative to me that when I was considered that this was something I had to put in place.
“My backroom team in David, Jon and Lee have all bought in, and we expect the players to and thrive in it. If we nail our environment and processes, there’s no reason why we can’t go all the way in this year’s Four Nations tournament.”
Wales Students are one of our oldest international sides having run since 1984 and have competed in eight World Cups, reaching the semi-finals three times. This year they will be hosting the Four Nations tournament against England, Ireland and Scotland, having won the last of their three titles in 2012. The venues are still to be announced.
If you would like to express an interest in playing for Wales Students, please email email@example.com. You’ll need to either be Welsh born, have Welsh parents or grandparents, be living in Wales for at least five years, or must be currently studying any course at a Welsh college or university.