Hope for future despite forgettable World Cup for Wales
|Rugby League World Cup on the BBC|
|Venues: Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea|
|Dates: 27 October to 2 December|
|Coverage: Watch live coverage and highlights on BBC TV, Connected TV, online & the BBC Sport app and listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and sports extra.|
It’s been a World Cup that Wales coach John Kear would rather forget. That is obvious.
They’ve enjoyed their time off the field feeding crocodiles and avoiding sharks, but on the pitch Wales have suffered.
They’ve shipped a total of 156 points against Papua New Guinea, who smashed them, Fiji, who outplayed them, and then Ireland who, with no hope of qualifying for the knockout stages despite winning two games, were adamant they’d finish with a bang… and did.
Wales in response mustered a meagre 18 points with three tries from three players they will rely heavily on in future.
First up, Regan Grace, who says it’s his job to score tries, crossed thanks to a mistake from the hosts in Port Moresby, but had little chance to show his potential on the word stage, playing in a side who have been on the back foot since arriving at the tournament.
His cousin and St Helens team-mate Calvin Wellington has crossed codes while Grace has been down under.
Grace could be just what the Welsh Rugby Union are looking at – a young player with potential and pace to burn.
Morgan Knowles, 21, scored in Wales’ record World Cup defeat against Fiji in Townsville and has been his nation’s stand-out player in this tournament.
The only problem is he could be recruited by England, according to former Great Britain coach Brian Noble.
Super League side St Helens, desperate to keep him, have tied him down to a new four-year contract after rumours of a move to Australia’s NRL.
In a game where money talks, Wales will have to pull on his heart strings to avoid overtures from across the border and abroad.
In any case, he has obvious potential as captain for club and country.
Ben Morris scored Wales’ third and final try of the tournament in a lacklustre performance against Ireland in Perth.
Another St Helens player, Morris will need games in the Super League if Wales are to see the best of him after spending time in League 1 with Oldham.
Another find has been heritage player Josh Ralph, plucked from NRL side Gold Coast Titans in Australia.
Formerly of Newcastle Knights, he was unleashed for his debut against Ireland in Perth.
Confident with ball in hand and fearless despite his 5ft 7in stature in contact, he is a player who wants to play for Wales.
The same can’t necessarily be said for some of the absentees in Australia.
In his provisional World Cup squad, Kear named 12 players from Super League clubs, but came down under with only three at his disposal.
Injuries meant the likes of Ben Flower, Rhodri Lloyd and Rhys Evans didn’t travel, while Gil Dudson was among the players to decline the offer of playing for his country at the World Cup for personal reasons.
John Kear was adamant before the tournament that Wales wouldn’t miss the players but he might now agree with Ireland captain Liam Finn who said Wales had been let down by the players who stayed at home.
There was even interest in calling upon Leeds Rhinos’ Stevie Ward after he was overlooked by England, despite the back-rower playing through a shoulder injury to win the Grand Final at Old Trafford.
NRL star Tyson Frizell would also have been a Welsh shoe-in had the Kangaroos not included him in their World Cup squad.
Fair to say Kear and his experienced coaching team, which includes Challenge Cup legend Garreth Carvell, will look back and wonder ‘what if’ they’d had more of the high quality players at their disposal.
What cannot be questioned is the dedication of the players who did make the trip.
Kear through the pain barrier
Vice-captain Elliot Kear played through an ankle injury in their final match in Perth while Rhodri Lloyd took the field after missing a week of training through illness.
A word too on the likes of Steve Parry and Courtney Davies whose futures are uncertain following the demise of the Gloucester Old Golds.
Signs of potential are there in the age groups.
The game is making inroads with established rugby union schools such as Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf, Cardiff (Glantaf Welsh language comprehensive school), which has a senior side unbeaten in two seasons.
Wales Under-16s made history this year, beating their English counterparts for the first time.
Crucially, youngsters need experience. Championship clubs are not Super League clubs and there’s no doubt Wales need more players playing at the top level if they’re to avoid similar humiliation on home turf in four years’ time.
You can follow the fortunes of your favourite team with live match notifications sent straight to your phone or tablet via the BBC Sport app. Line-up, kick-off, score, half-time and full-time options are available for all teams participating at the World Cup.