England coach Steve McNamara has offered a ‘good luck’ greeting to Hemel Stags as they prepare to meet fellow professional rugby league newcomers University of Gloucestershire All Golds in the Northern Rail Cup this weekend.
Gloucester and Hemel go head-to-head at The Prince of Wales Stadium in Cheltenham on Sunday in a fixture that sees both clubs make their professional bows.
And McNamara has welcomed their presence in the sport during one of the most important years in the its history.
“It’s great to see Hemel Stags competing in professional rugby league for the first time and I would like to wish them the very best from this weekend,” he said.
“It’s a very exciting time for everyone involved in rugby league and I’m sure that the Stags will put down strong foundations in a World Cup year.
“From the systems they have in place and the people they have working at those clubs, it looks promising for the future of Hemel.
“Although it’s unlikely that we will have players from the Stags featuring in the World Cup at the end of the season, I look forward to the day when Hemel and the other two new clubs, Gloucestershire and Oxford, all have players in contention for England selection.”
With England Knights players Dan Sarginson and Keiron Dixon already having come through the ranks, Hemel’s pedigree as a breeding ground for top class talent has already caught the attention of the sport’s core following in recent years.
“With the new clubs bringing rugby league into areas where the sport hasn’t previously been associated at professional level, the potential to develop new people, players, fans and volunteers is huge,” said McNamara.
“There’s a balance to strike with continuing development in our core areas and taking the sport to new regions, but when there is a plan in place and that plan is executed correctly it can pay off, as Super League club Catalan Dragons have proved in France.
“It would be great to see Hemel start to challenge the London clubs in the coming years and develop into a force in the game.”