'A crazy few days' for St Helens centre Kevin Naiqama ahead of World Cup Nines

Kevin Naiqama meets up with England captain James Graham Down Under
Kevin Naiqama meets up with England captain James Graham Down Under

Wales coach John Kear likens the new World Cup Nines to cricket's T20 as the leading 12 nations prepare to do battle at the Bankwest Stadium in Sydney on Friday and Saturday.


As well as a reduction in players from 13-a-side, matches are played in two nine-minute halves with unlimited interchanges and five tackles per set rather than the usual six.

"It's exciting, it's something different," said Kear. "It might be rugby league's answer to T20. It's certainly a great experiment and one I'm looking forward to.

"Anything that helps the international game is a plus point and it's a carnival of high quality rugby league."

Wales open their campaign on Friday against Wayne Bennett's England in a group that also contains Lebanon and France, with just one team to go through to semi-finals.

"I'm just pleased for our players," Kear said. "We held this out as a bit of a carrot last year when we were trying to qualify for the 2021 World Cup.

"We said you guys get us there and we can come out here and mix and mingle and hopefully give a good account of ourselves in a great environment."

Wales are boosted by the presence of Grand Final-winning winger Regan Grace, whose St Helens team-mate Kevin Naiqama also flew to Sydney after Saturday's match to link up with Fiji.

"It's been a crazy few days," Naiqama said. "It should be exciting. It's a different structure and a level playing field for all the teams. I'm sure everyone is going to be in for an entertaining weekend."

Fiji, who are coached former Huddersfield and Bradford player Brandon Costin, also include Catalans Dragons centre Brayden Wiliame while there are familiar faces across most of the teams.

Former Wigan centre Anthony Gelling, who will be a Warrington player in 2020, will play for the Cook Islands while Rhyse Martin (Leeds) is in the Papua New Guinea squad, along with Watson Boas (Featherstone), Stargroth Amean (Barrow) and former Castleford winger Garry Lo.

The United States squad includes Hull winger Bureta Faraimo as well as Corey Makelim (Sheffield) and Junior Vaivai (Toulouse) while five Catalans players and five from Championship club Toulouse make up the bulk of the France squad.

England are one of four teams taking part in the women's tournament and open their campaign against Papua New Guinea on Friday.

Australia and New Zealand are the other opponents for England, who are being led by Emily Rudge, one of seven players from St Helens in the 16-strong squad.