Written by Stuart McLennan
When Daz Fisher answered a call in 2013 to play the game he loves in Madrid little did he know that six years later he would be on the verge of taking the national team to their first ever World Cup.
“I have been involved right from the beginning. In 2013 I saw an advertisement for players in Madrid and at that point I enquired as I was still playing and saw an opportunity to play in Europe,” Fisher explained to Everything Rugby League.
“As it turned out I got involved in the setup of Spain RL and delivered camps throughout the country. Off the back of it I was asked by the board to take the reins and prepare a new national side. Based on our initial success on and off the field I have remained head coach since.”
There is no doubting Fisher’s stint in charge has been successful. Spain has moved to the last stage of 2021 World Cup qualification after defeating Russia 32-24 in Valencia and going down narrowly to Serbia 20-24 in Belgrade. Serbia needed to win by 14 points to go through to the next stage.
The relegation of Serbia was a shock to many international rugby league pundits. Many considered them favourites from European Group B to progress.
Fisher who is from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, has experience in various coaching roles including with Wakefield Trinity and Castleford Tigers. The experienced mentor took a pragmatic approach to reaching the next stage of qualification.
“I expected them (Serbia) to be the strongest side so I knew the victory at home would be a key factor to finish runner up or potentially win the group. We always have to face these games full of belief. It’s 80 minutes of never giving up and working hard to achieve history and dream of the next steps. The players I work with know how much passion we need to have for this.”
There will need to be passion and commitment in truckloads later this year when Spain take on Ireland and Italy. Both teams qualified for the 2017 World Cup and are expected to provide very tough opposition for the Spaniards. Fisher who works in the building trade and as a sports therapist knows that one win is likely to suffice. He believes his team will go into the games without the weight of expectation on their shoulders.
“No one expected us to be at this stage considering the group we were in. We know what both sides are capable of and the qualities they have. Ireland came to us in 2016 for the last World Cup qualifiers and this time round we are better for it.
“We are always confident. I have a lot of confidence in my players but also we will give each team a go and the pressure isn’t on us and the expectations are on them.”
While Fisher says he will bring in heritage players where needed against Ireland and Italy, he won’t be abandoning the domestic talent that has built the platform so far.
“We have some very good domestic players and I will give every opportunity for player pathways to reach the level we need to be. So a little is on the domestic players to work hard as they have done previously. They have been the rocks in the side that has got us our success so far.
“If I bring players in it will be areas where I feel the domestics need some experience or guidance round the park. The players that played in (European) Group B were outstanding for us. The heritage players know that it’s not a holiday camp and need to work hard too. All the players including heritage players are also required to do community work in developing Rugby League as ambassadors for us which is great for everyone.”
Fisher says Spain Rugby League are currently revamping the domestic competition and initiating a regional approach with the aim of less costly journeys for matches and more opportunities for players to get involved.
While keeping his feet firmly on the ground and not jumping ahead Fisher is acutely aware of what 2021 World Cup qualification would do for the sport in Spain.
“Just a few years ago I coached some of these domestic players and showed them fundamentals like playing the ball correctly and now I’ve seen these players grow into the sport. They are now senior players in the side and from where they started to where they could be especially up against some of the best players in the world, you couldn’t make it up!
“This is a life’s dream for any player and if I can give them that opportunity then I would be overwhelmed with that.
“It’s not just a case for us now as great as it is, it’s also about keeping and maintaining Spain’s presence in world rugby league. It would be great to see young ones follow the footsteps of these players we have now.”
Spain will play Ireland at home the weekend of 26-27 October 2019 and will then face Italy away the weekend of 2-3 November 2019. The top two teams in the group will qualify for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.