Wales are aiming to secure a sixth consecutive Celtic Cup crown tomorrow (Saturday) when they meet Scotland and Ireland in the annual wheelchair rugby league tournament at the Plas Madoc Leisure Centre in Wrexham.
The games begin at 11.15am with Wales v Ireland. Ireland v Scotland follows two hours later, with Wales v Scotland concluding proceedings at 3.15pm.
Originally a two-legged affair between Scotland and Ireland in 2015, the first tournament was won by the Irish. Since then, with an enforced Covid-19 break in 2020, the Welsh have taken the title without losing a match.
The defending champions make three changes from the side which beat Scotland in a friendly in Wrexham last autumn, with record Test cap holder Alan Caron returning, looking to add to his tally of 36. Stuart Williams is back as captain after last appearing in the 2021 Celtic Cup competition, whilst Scott Trigg-Turner also returns.
The Welsh squad also features Jodie Boyd-Ward, 29, who since making her debut a decade ago has become the most successful female Wheelchair Rugby League player in history, having previously featured for England between 2014 and 2019, Boyd-Ward has also been a member of Leeds Rhinos’ 2018 Super League, 2019 Challenge Cup and 2021’s historic treble-winning squads.
Wales head coach, Stephen Jones, commented: “We have named a mixed squad in terms of experience but will also be looking ahead to the World Cup later this year. We will be saying goodbye to our assistant coach Lyndon Price who is leaving after the event, however it will also give his successor, Gary Taylor, the opportunity to be part of the team for his first internationals as a coach instead of his usual place on the field. This year should be a great tournament with Scotland under new management and Ireland once again out to prove that they belong on the international stage for Wheelchair Rugby League.”
Record cap holder Graeme Stewart returns to the Scotland fold having been injured for the 2021 season whilst Pete Lauder and Jay Anderson earn recalls from head coach Mark Roughsedge, and Bex Parker makes her debut, familiar with many of her opposition as a North Wales Crusaders player. Roughsedge is missing Ryan Mellon from his squad who is unavailable due to Army commitments.
“It has been a real pleasure to see how this group of players and staff are really starting to develop and grow as a team,” he said. “I have witnessed a marked change in mindset that continues to drive a desire to keep getting better. The Celtic Cup will give us an indication of just how far we are along our journey towards the World Cup in November.”
Following their recent addition to the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup, Ireland head coach, Damian McCabe - who takes a player-coach role for the Celtic Cup - will be using the tournament to accelerate their preparation. He welcomes back Joshua Gardner and experienced Wigan Warriors player-coach Phil Roberts, himself a World Cup winning coach with England in 2008, to the squad whilst Darran Dowey makes his second outing for the Ireland and Peter Johnston Jr. plays his first game with the captain’s armband. Toby Burton-Carter has been in fine form for Warrington in the Wheelchair Super League.
“We have trained hard for this tournament and the improvements I have seen give me confidence that we can make this year’s event competitive,” McCabe noted. “Our squad is largely unchanged from last year but we do welcome former players Phil Roberts and Josh Gardner back into the side. We will get a marker of where we need to be to take on the likes of England and Australia in the World Cup.”
2022 CELTIC CUP
Wales Squad: Alan Caron, Gary Preece (both Hereford Harriers), Jodie Boyd-Ward (Leeds Rhinos), Harry Jones, Lucie Roberts, Mason Baker, Ricki Davies, Scott Trigg-Turner, Stephen Halsey, Stuart Williams (all North Wales Crusaders), Mark Williams (Wigan Warriors )
Scotland Squad: David Birtles, Jay Anderson, Connor Blackmore, Michael Mellon, Graeme Stewart, Cadyn Thomson, John Willans, (Dundee Dragons), Neil Johnston (Glasgow Rugby League), Bex Parker (North Wales Crusaders), Paul Hartley, Pete Lauder (RAF), Callum Young (Warrington Wolves)
Ireland Squad: Toby Burton-Carter (Warrington Wolves), Darran Dowey (Torfaen Tigers), Peter Johnston Jnr, Rick Rodgers (both Argonauts), Thomas Martin (Halifax Panthers), Stephen Palin-Campbell (Sheffield Eagles), Phil Roberts (Wigan Warriors), Damian McCabe, Joshua Gardner, Scott Robertson (Unattached)