PIC – Brian inducts Dai Watkins into the Wales Rugby League Hall of Fame, earlier in 2018.
As 2018 draws to a close I wanted to thank everyone for their support to Wales Rugby League during the year.
After returning home from RLWC2017, we faced questions about our strategy and direction following some very tough encounters in challenging conditions in Australia for our boys.
To the credit of everyone involved we took defeat without shame and built a tremendous spirit amongst a very brave young group of players and answered those questions with panache in 2018.
Collectively the senior squad displayed an outstanding turnaround during the European Championships / World Cup qualifiers this year after being “caught in the headlights” in France.
Our response was magnificent once we settled into our systems and patterns against Scotland in Gala, and similarly taking the game to Ireland in front of our home supporters in Wrexham, gaining very commendable wins and leaving a strong message about the developing quality of our squad.
The style of play and enthusiasm shown throughout the squad and staff has been commendable and rewarding.
To have qualified for RLWC2021 at this early stage allows our coaching and backroom staff to look ahead with confidence as we continually add quality players to the playing panel.
Once again we can start to believe that Wales Rugby League can start challenging the top rugby league nations.
It is a shame that we are not given the financial resources that some of our competitors receive but despite this, we are still capable of developing a pathway for Welsh born players which is in contrast to many other nations.
I am grateful that we have also been very lucky that some wonderful young heritage players have chosen to represent the land of their fathers / grandfathers to give us a good mix of experience and skill across the squad.
It remains our goal to be a top three European and top four world ranking team in governance and performance and, with a few more successive wins, we can also dream about the crowds increasing to support their heroes.
John Kear and his staff are considering the next steps for the senior squad as they build towards RLWC2021 with the potential of choosing some exciting challenges for the team during 2019.
Congratulations once again to Wales Rugby League Wheelchair team on winning the Celtic Cup in some style for the third consecutive season and to the Dragonhearts following their successful win over their Serbian counterparts in Belgrade, as well as running the full national side close. Internationally, we ran seven sides as our U23 side competed well in the Commonwealth Nines, beating England on the way to a sixth placed finish, our U19s finished third in the European Championships, our U16s recorded a big win over Scotland and our Wales Students hosted the Four Nations in Pontypridd, finishing third.
In the Welsh Premier League, we had Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers, Cardiff Blue Dragons, Bridgend Bulls, Rhondda Outlaws and Llanelli Knights participating, and it was congratulations to Valley Cougars on repeating their success of 2017 over Torfaen Tigers in the Grand Final.
Torfaen, Cardiff, Llanelli and Bridgend also entered teams into our junior competitions where they were joined by Aber Valley Wolves, who have a link with Valley Cougars.
Encouragingly the U15 structure was also increased by Penlan Wild Stallions from Swansea which really adds optimism for sustainably developing Rugby League talent across Wales.
Overall it’s been another encouraging year for Wales Rugby League and I am forever grateful to everyone for your continued support.
Now, 2019 arrives with optimism as Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf and Aberdare Community School qualifying for the Year 11 national Champion Schools knockout stages. We also have Torfaen Tigers representing us in the Challenge Cup and they join the Cougars and Cardiff in the newly reformed Southern Conference.
On top of this, we have a major squad rebuilding process happening at West Wales Raiders with some exciting players being added to a predominantly Welsh squad and extensive efforts being made in the community to ensure a sustainable future.
North Wales Crusaders have also been adding more quality to an already competitive squad and they will be a force in Championship 1 this year.
With the emergence of the North Wales A and Origins sides during 2018, we have another pathway opened for Welsh players which will encourage further development of the game and add value over the longer term to the region, especially with their trials coming up in both the North East and North West of Wales. North Wales Crusaders must also be commended for successes with their junior and wheelchair sides in 2018.
We had our sad moments in 2018 with the passing of one of our great players, one of most respected coaches and two of our outstanding volunteers. Our condolences were sent to the family of the outstanding dual-code internationals John Mantle, who will be remembered with respect and emotion, we remembered Les Pearce who famously led Wales to third in the 1975 World Cup which included a win over England in Brisbane, and we sent our dearest respects to families of Clive Batchelor and Martin Roddy who both served Wales Rugby League so well.
I would like to thank Chris Thair for his outstanding contribution to Wales Rugby League and wish him every success in his new position as General Manager of the Rugby League European Federation.
Finally another big thank you to all the volunteers, supporters, players, coaches, medical and back room staff across our teams for all their hard work and dedication in support of Rugby League in Wales.
We can look forward to an exciting 2019 both at club and international level so in parting I hope you all enjoy a great New Year’s Eve and have a very successful 2019.
All the above and more is covered in a new charity publication which is being released in May. For more information and to pre-order, please click here.