Oldham trio Joe Burke, Will Hope and Richard Lepori will be playing this autumn for the chance to figure in next year’s World Cup in the southern hemisphere. There’s no bigger prize than that.
Over the next three weeks, starting on Saturday, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Serbia, Russia and Spain will battle it out for the right to fill the final three places next year in rugby league’s biggest international tournament.
Already planning for RLWC2017 Down Under are host countries Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea as well as England, France, Samoa, Fiji, Scotland, Tonga, Lebanon and USA.
Three more spots are up for grabs and Burke (Wales), Hope (Ireland) and Lepori (Italy) have all survived cuts in provisional squads to make it through to their respective country’s final 22 for the forthcoming World Cup qualification series.
Their Roughyeds teammate Michael Ward, who was also named in Ireland’s provisional train-on squad, lost out when coach Mark Aston trimmed it down to size.
Burke, Hope and Lepori have all played previously at international level, but the prospect of getting on a plane this time next year to play World Cup rugby in Australia and New Zealand is still a glittering incentive to show up well over the next three weeks.
The qualifying tournament works like this:
Wales, Serbia and Italy play each other in Pool A, while Ireland, Russia and Spain do likewise in Pool B.
The winners of each pool go through to RLWC2017 plus the winners of a second place versus second place play-off tie which will bring the series to a close at Leigh Sports Village on Saturday, November 5.
Fixtures are as follows:
- Saturday, October 15: Wales v Serbia (Llanelli); Russia v Spain (Moscow).
- Saturday, October 22: Serbia v Italy (Belgrade); Spain v Ireland (Valencia).
- Saturday, October 29: Italy v Wales (Monza).
- Sunday, October 30: Ireland v Russia (Bray).
- Saturday, November 5: play-off 2 v 2 (Leigh).
World rankings: Ireland (6), Wales (8), Serbia (12), Italy (13), Russia (16), Spain (21).