Written by John Davidson
Photo by Getty Images
Ireland were one of the great ‘could have been a contender’ stories at the 2017 World Cup.
The Irish were victims of the odd group system and were placed in a three-team pool, alongside Papua New Guinea and Wales, where only the top ranked side made it through to the knockout stage.
The Wolfhounds had to endure a crazy travel schedule, playing in Cairns then Port Moresby and finally Perth, all in the space of just two weeks, but managed comfortable wins over Italy and Wales.
Only a tight, see-sawing 14-6 defeat to the Kumuls, which took place in front of a passionate Papua New Guinean crowd and amid searing humidity, heart-breakingly ended the tournament for Mark Aston’s men and a quarter-final date with England.
But at this year’s World Cup Ireland have a better shot at success.
Again they will be able to put together a strong team filled with talent and experience. Ireland’s pack’s should be able to call on Leigh second-rower Tyrone McCarthy, St Helens trio Kyle Amour, James Bentley and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wigan’s Brad Singleton and Liam Byrne, Hull KR’s George King, Salford’s Oliver Roberts and Catalans hooker Michael McIlorum.
It’s an incrediblely strong and versatile forward pack that could also include Warrington pair Ben Currie and Joe Philbin, if they miss out on England selection.
In the backline Robins halfback Joe Keyes will pull the strings, with Wakefield flyer Liam Kay, Salford’s Ed Chamberlain, Hull KR teammate Ethan Ryan and potentially Wolves centre Toby King outside of him.
Coach Stuart Littler could have a lot of options at his disposal. The depth of Irish diaspora means the Wolfhouds have the ability to do some real damage in 2021.
And McCarthy-Scarsbrook knows it all too well.
The 35-year-old made his debut for Ireland at the last World Cup. A veteran of nearly 400 first-grade games, the forward has been a key member of St Helens’ all-conquering side in the past few years.
He is keen to wear the green and white again.
“I spoke to the assistant coach at Ireland recently,” MCarthy-Scarsbrook told Everything Rugby League recently.
“It’s all coming along so hopefully we’ll have another good campaign like we did out in Australia, where we were one try away from getting through the group stages. Hopefully we can back it up this year.”
At this year’s World Cup the Irish have been pooled with the Kiwis, Jamaica and Lebanon. While the Kiwis should claim first spot easily, second-spot is up for grabs.
The Jamaicans have never played in a World Cup before while the Lebanese surprised everybody at the last tournament, but this time round will be without retired stars Robbie Farah, Tim Mannah and Michael Lichaa.
McCarthy-Scarsbrook believes Ireland can catch the eye.
“We’ve got Jamaica, Lebanon and obviously New Zealand,” he said.
“New Zealand will be favourites to win that group but hopefully we can put a good standard of rugby league together and show we’re a bunch of Paddies together. It will be alright.”