IRELAND will begin its Rugby League World Cup campaign by seeking revenge over the Fijian side that ended the nation’s hopes in the last tournament.
Sheffield Eagles boss and Ireland Head Coach, Mark Aston, will lead The Wolfhounds into Monday’s match at Rochdale’s Spotland Stadium as the underdogs of Group A.
He said: “It’s an exciting time for me to be coaching in a World Cup, it’s going to be tough but I’ve got a group of people who are proud to play for Ireland.
“I’m looking forward to working with the people in the squad. It’s a tough group but there’s no need to be frightened; we will go out there and do our best.”
England and favourites Australia are the remaining countries in the group, where Ireland is ranked lowest at ninth.
A former Great Britain international, Aston has taken his Eagles side to Championship glory for a second successive year and will no doubt be looking at the 2013 World Cup as a new challenge.
Unlike several of their competing teams Aston decided that Ireland would not play any friendly matches to warm-up ahead of their crucial tournament opener.
“Some of the guys have played 34 or even 38 matches this year and we didn’t want to fatigue them,” he said.
“We’re trying to keep them fresh but we’re intensifying the training now and we’ll go hard against each other.
“We’ve had two sessions so far and we’ll have another eight before our first game. We haven’t had the luxury of going to South Africa for a training camp but we’re coming together.
“It’s a case of blending individuals into a collective and the group are getting close.”
Ireland’s 24-man squad consists of 10 Super League players and four from Australia’s NRL.
The Wolfhounds’ key players who will be aiming to take Ireland one step further this time around are Pat Richards (Wigan), captain Liam Finn (Featherstone) and Damien Blanch (Catalans).
Assistant coaches who will be aiding Aston in the team’s journey are former Eagles players and ex-Ireland internationals Ryan Sheridan and Ged Corcoran.
The World Cup kicks off with a Group A fixture; England take on Australia at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The final takes place at Old Trafford on Saturday 30 November.
Ireland’s Group A fixtures:
Ireland v Fiji – Monday 28 October, Kick Off 8:00pm,
Ireland v England – Saturday 2 November, Kick Off 2:30pm
Ireland v Australia – Saturday 9 November, Kick Off 8:00pm