JOE BURKE believes Super League experience can help aid Wales in their bid to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
The former North Wales Crusaders’ prop forward is part of John Kear’s 22-man squad who will face Serbia in Llanelli tomorrow in the first of two European qualifiers for the 2017 tournament, which takes place in New Zealand and Australia.
They head to Monza to face Italy in a fortnight and if Wales were to win both of those qualifiers, they will secure a spot at next year’s showpiece finals.
Burke, who left Crusaders at the start of the 2016 season to sign for Oldham Roughyeds in the Championship, believes the addition of Widnes duo Gil Dudson and Lloyd White, has given the Welsh squad confidence that they can claim their World Cup spot, with other top tier players such as Salford’s Craig Kopczak and St Helens’ Regan Grace also in the squad.
“It’s always exciting to link up with Wales after a long, tough domestic season to meet up with the international lads who you are friends with and have played with for a couple of years,” Burke said.
“There is a confidence built out of what we’ve built up ourselves over the last few years. Obviously when John took over we were still developing and then last year there was a few more experienced players and has allowed the rest of us to kick on and some players have really blossomed.
“We’ve retained a lot of the squad and got some quality additions with the likes of Gil Dudson and Lloyd White who add that Super League experience, so you could say we’re quietly confident.”
Burke admits it was tough to adjust to second tier rugby having made the move to Oldham back in April but he went on to have a successful first season, making 22 appearances as the Lancashire outfit finished 10th in the table.
“Stepping up from League to the Championship has proved tough and it’s a big step up with the quality in that league when you take on the likes of Leigh and Featherstone but you always want to put your best foot forward and play against the best week-in week-out,” he continued.
Burke is hopeful that Crusaders - who he joined in 2014 from Barrow Raiders - can put their off-field woes behind them and kick on next season under new head coach Mike Grady.
“There’s a lot good people at Crusaders and a lot of people who put in a lot of hard work there, so I suppose there’s lots of things that people don’t see to try and rectify the problems they have encountered,” he added.
“I know they are trying to bring in new players and there’s a new coach in place now. No one likes to see anything fail, fingers crossed it works out for them. There’s been a good footing put down at North Wales and hopefully that can continue.
“It’s crucial for the national team to have a strong team in both north and south Wales as it promotes to youngsters coming through the game, even from the likes of amateur and Conference rugby. It gives people a chance to see a pathway through to the national team and an opportunity to step up to international level.”