International rugby league makes its Borders debut tomorrow (Friday) – and it could not be better timed as Scotland take on France at Galashiels just a point away from winning the European Championship for the first time.
It will also be a special night for Scotland Rugby League as it celebrates its 20th anniversary and will present a series of guests to the crowd, including several Borders rugby stars of the past.
David Rose, who left Jed-Forest for Huddersfield, and the Cowan brothers, Stan and Ron, who departed Selkirk for Hull and Leeds respectively, will be guests of Scotland RL, as will George Fairbairn – born in Peebles, raised in Coldstream and played for Kelso.
There is only one Borders-based player in the Scotland squad – teenage half-back Lewis Clarke who has yet to win a senior cap, but was instrumental in Scotland Under-19s’ 42-10 win over Ireland in Dublin on Saturday. Clarke plays for Edinburgh Eagles, but works in Galashiels for Scottish Power.
The impact of playing in the Borders is not lost on those in the squad who were raised on domestic rugby.
“For the development of the sport, it’s massive to have a game in the Borders,” said winger David Scott – born and bred in Stirling and a former Easterhouse Panthers junior.
He added: “Those people in Scotland who are unsure about rugby league should come down and see what it’s all about. It’s a fantastic sport that doesn’t get the credit it deserves in Scotland. Off the back of the World Cup and the publicity we got there, and winning the first two games this year, it would be great to have a big home crowd behind us on Friday.”
Scotland will wear a special ‘Galloween’ shirt tomorrow night – a lime and black design – as they were requested to change from their traditional blue by visitors France who, as the higher-ranked nation, had the option to do so.
Coach Steve McCormack will put his 20-man squad through a session on the Netherdale pitch today. There are injury doubts over second-row forward Brett Phillips and winger Alex Hurst, but prop Jonathan Walker returns from suspension.
Kick off is 7.30pm, with tickets available on the night.