Belfast is to host an international rugby league match — for the first time in over 12 years.
Ireland will face England Knights at Belfast Harlequins’ Dermore Park home on Friday, October 19 (7.30pm), the same night as Ulster line out against Glasgow Warriors in their Heineken Cup Pool 4 clash at Scotstoun Stadium.
This is the first time Ireland have played the 13-man version of rugby in Belfast since the opening match of the 2000 Rugby League World Cup when they beat Samoa 30-16 at Windsor Park.
Although coach Mark Aston still has to announce his squad, it is expected to feature a number of Irishmen making their names in England’s top division, the Super League, plus players from the domestic league here in Ireland.
Rugby League has grown massively across the Emerald Isle in recent times, witness the fact that there are 21 club sides competing for honours — almost double the number just a few years ago.
With club games being played during the summer months, that means an ever-growing number of Ireland’s players now are active all year round by virtue of there being two different rugby codes.
Their October 19 opponents, the Knights, provide the back-up for the full English national team and with the match against Ireland taking place two weeks after the Super League Grand Final, it is expected that the visitors will be bringing a side packed with big names to Deramore.
As well as hosting England Knights on October 19, five days earlier Ireland will be playing Scotland in Edinburgh, also in the three-team 2012 Alitalia European Cup. Irish coach Aston said: “We are delighted to be participating in the Alitalia European Cup. With the World Cup just over 12 months away it will give us the ideal opportunity to start our preparation in earnest.”
Details about tickets for the game are available from Rugby League Ireland’s website http://www.rli.ie