New coach Stuart Littler freshens up Ireland rugby league squad for European Championship

New coach Stuart Littler freshens up Ireland rugby league squad for European Championship
Liam Finn

St Helens back rower James Bentley and Hull prop Lewis Bienek are among the new faces named in head coach Stuart Littler's first Ireland rugby league squad.

Littler, who has taken over from Mark Aston, has chosen a mixture of youth and experience for the European Championship, which doubles as a qualifier for the 2021 World Cup.

Retained as captain is Ireland's most-capped player Liam Finn, who led his side to two wins out of three in the 2017 World Cup.

"Once again I feel privileged to captain Ireland and can't wait to meet up with the squad," said Finn, 34. who will join Wakefield's coaching staff in 2019 while also playing for Newcastle Thunder.

"I am excited about these three games, the challenge of the competition and qualification for the next World Cup being up for grabs."

Finn, who has won 24 caps, paid tribute to Aston, saying: "What he's done for us over the last few years has been outstanding - working with limited resources, getting the absolute best out of us as a country and I enjoyed playing for him a lot.

"He is a massive advocate of international rugby league and helping the sport develop.

"Now we are onto a new chapter with a new coach and we'll all try to maintain the improvement. It's great to have Stu involved and, after playing with him for Ireland, I know how enthusiastic and passionate he is."

At the other end of the age and experience scale, teenager Ronan Michael is included for the first time at senior level having moved to Huddersfield from Longhorns RL.

Ireland open their campaign with a home game against Scotland at Morton Stadium, Santry, on Saturday, October 27 and then host France before finishing up against Wales in Wrexham.

Ireland's 35-man train-on squad: S O'Sullivan, C Smyth (Athy Sharks), M Ward (Batley) C Hall, C Phillips (Belfast Stags), J Keyes, G McNally, E Ryan (Bradford), P Ryan (Coventry), A Ryan (Dublin City Exiles) R Guilfoyle, E O'Keefe, R Stanley (Galway Tribesmen), R Michael (Huddersfield), L Bienek (Hull), A Pewhairangi (London Broncos), A Coade, M Connelly, G Gill, R McHugh, J Mulvany, K Varga (Longhorns RL), T McCarthy (Salford), J Bentley (St Helens), W Hope (Swinton), L Finn, S Grix, L Hooley (Wakefield), G King, P Moran (Warrington), A McMahon (Waterford Vikings), C Mulkeen (West Wales), C O'Neill (Widnes), L Byrne, D O'Donnell (Wigan).

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