25th October 2010, 15:17
Iestyn Harris sees bright future for Wales
Wales coach Iestyn Harris believes the sky is the limit...
Wales coach Iestyn Harris believes the sky is the limit for rugby league in our country.
Harris' players achieved arguably the greatest victory in the history of Wales Rugby League as they qualified for next year's Four Nations tournament by beating France in Saturday's European Cup final.
Wales can now look forward to facing England, Australia and New Zealand next autumn and, coming on top of significant progress on the domestic club scene, Harris is buoyant.
The dual-code former Wales international told Sky Sports News: "The magnitude of what it means now we probably won't realise until everything comes to fruition over the next 12 months.
"We are trying to create partnerships and build a strategic plan into the World Cup in 2013. This just makes it a little bit easier.
"There is an infrastructure underneath, right across south Wales and starting to be developed in north Wales as well.
"There are thousands and thousands of kids now playing the rugby league in Wales across all ages and they, at stages, are going to come through and come into the full set-up of Wales rugby league.
"With the Crusaders doing well in Super League, I think it could go to the sky, the game of rugby league in Wales."
The Crusaders endured a troubled first year in Super League in 2009 but their move from Bridgend to Wrexham this year proved successful with the team reaching the play-offs.
The void created by their move north was filled by Neath-based South Wales Scorpions, who joined Championship One.
Underpinning their presence is a growing amateur scene and Harris does not believe the code has ever been in better shape in Wales, which has a long but chequered rugby league history.
The former Bradford and Leeds half-back said: "If we pick up five 10, 15 injuries it may weaken you slightly but we have got an influx of young players waiting for their opportunity to come through.
"That has never happened in Wales before in rugby league before.
"The game has come so far in such a short space of time."
Young rising Crusaders stars Elliot Kear, Lloyd White and Ben Flower started alongside Gareth Thomas and Jordan James in the all-important victory over France in Albi while Gil Dudson was named among the substitutes.
The quartet all impressed during their time on the field and Harris told Tom Norris from the Wrexham Leader that they can go from strength-to-strength and be regular fixtures for both club and country.
"We are lucky that the group of players that have come with us this time that are not playing in Super League at the moment are of a Super League standard," said Harris.
"They are in a full time environment which helps. There have been some big improvements right the way through.
"In your early 20s is when you make the biggest step as a player and they have benefited from these games.
"Crusaders has been great for Wales. Essentially the growth in rugby league in Wales has been helped by having a Super League club, there is a carrot at the end of it for all the kids who play the game to appear for a Welsh Super League club.
"That helps the national game and the more players coming into the Crusaders system the better the players will be for Wales."
On whether the young Crusaders men can stake claims for regular places in the Wrexham-based squad, Harris explained: "That's on to them.
"There is some onus on them to do the right things pre-season wise and get themselves physically in the best shape possible and get ready to play Super League.
"It doesn't get handed on a plate to you, you have to work for everything you get in the game of rugby league and any sport. If you are not prepared to do the work then you don't get the good days at the end of it.
"They seem pretty grounded kids and if they have big pre-seasons then they have as big an opportunity as anyone else in the squad.
"They've got talent in there. If they didn't have the right talent they wouldn't be in the Crusaders system."
Harris continued by speaking about the magnitude of the European Cup victory for Wales, especially the 12-11 victory over hosts France without the key figure of Lee Briers.
"It's a big achievement as a group of people," declared Harris. "France had three home games and everything stacked in their favour to win the competition reasonably comfortably.
"We had a plan to go there and throw a some things at them, a couple of things worked and a couple of things didn't and we just had to hang in there and dig in."
And what does this mean for the future of the 13-man code in Wales?
"The sky is the limit," he said. "We have a Four Nations next year against England, Australia and New Zealand and then we are thinking about a tour to the Southern Hemisphere the year after.
"Then there is the World Cup in 2013 and the future is rosy for Wales Rugby League and with the infrastructure and the kids coming through it's a really bright future.
"The plan is by 2013 to be competitive consistantly against the best teams in the world and be possible finalists. It is a bold statement but I think we have the infrastructure in place to do that."
Harris also confirmed that he had spoken with the chairman of the Rugby League European Federation, Richard Lewis about starting the Four Nations with a double header at the Millennium Stadium.
He believes a match between Australia and New Zealand follwed by a Wales versus England clash would fill our national stadium.