D-Day is fast approaching for coach Paul McGregor – it’s this Sunday night, at Netstrada Jubilee Stadium, when his Dragons take on the depleted Manly Sea Eagles.
Scotland were expected to make up the numbers, yet turned out to be the underdog story of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
The Bravehearts went through the group stage undefeated and booked a quarter-final spot against the defending champions.
The expectations in 2017 appear similar and coach Steve McCormack would love nothing more than to replicate the feats of the last campaign.
Scotland were the last of the UK nations to begin playing rugby league, in 1995. Since then, the Bravehearts have gathered such momentum that they are now currently ranked fourth in the world.
Following their exceptional 2013 RLWC, they claimed their first European Cup title in 2014, destroying Wales and Ireland during that competition. This win also saw them qualify for the 2016 Four Nations, where they got the chance to compete with the three tier-one nations.
After suffering defeats in their first ever Test matches against Australia and England, the Bravehearts raised the roof in pouring rain by scoring a last-minute try against New Zealand to end the game in a draw.
Thus, on the back of the past four years, expectations were high for Scotland, however injuries mean McCormack has named a line-up with limited exposure to the big leagues.
Likely team line up
1. Matthew Russell
2. Lewis Tierney
3. Ben Hellewell
4. Lachlan Stein
5. David Scott
6. Danny Brough (c)
7. Oscar Thomas
8. Kieran Moran
9. Callum Phillips
10. Luke Douglas
11. Danny Addy
12. Dale Ferguson
13. Ben Kavanagh
14. Sam Brooks
15. Frankie Mariano
16. James Bell
17. Kane Bentley
Squad members: Alex Walker, Andrew Bentley, Brandon Wilkinson, Jarred Anderson, Jonathon Walker, Shane Toal, Will Oakes
There are only eight players in the side who have played at a World Cup previously, while there isn’t a single current NRL player in the team, with Lachlan Coote, Peter Wallace, Euan Aitken and Kane Linnett all succumbing to injuries.
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The former Super League Man of Steel had an up-and-down year for the Giants during this Super League season but even at 34, Danny Brough is still by far the nation’s best player. As captain, he will have to will his side to victory, as he did often in the 2013 tournament.
No doubt Danny’s pride in wearing the Scottish jersey will be contagious, ensuring the Bravehearts compete in every match.
Fixtures and opponents
Tonga at Barlow Park, Cairns – Sunday October 29, 5:15pm (AEDT)
New Zealand at Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch – Saturday November 4, 3pm (AEDT)
Samoa at Barlow Park, Cairns – Saturday November 11, 6pm (AEDT)
The final match during the pool stage is likely to be key. The Bravehearts have lost their only previous international fixture against Samoa, however this game may end up becoming a quarter-final play-off.
Cairns will be their de-facto home for the next month and they have to leave with a win.
RLWC 2017 prospects
Scotland find themselves in the pool of death, which will see them travelling across to New Zealand in between two matches in Cairns. If they can set up camp and familiarise themselves with the Northern Queensland conditions, a victory in one of those two games should be enough to see them through the pool stage.
Although ranked fourth in the world, the Bravehearts are likely to go into each match as heavy underdogs. Still, McCormack would be disappointed to leave the southern hemisphere with anything less than a quarter-final appearance, based on their results during this World Cup cycle.
Although the pundits are writing them off, Scotland has a history of proving them wrong.