Mark Aston says his current Ireland squad is the best he’s worked with, as he puts together his final preparations for the start of the Rugby League World Cup.
The Sheffield Eagles’ director of rugby temporarily removes himself from domestic matters, as he looks to lead Ireland out of the group stages this time around.
Aston, who has included Eagles’ Will Hope in his squad, has targeted a quarter-final place, with Ireland’s campaign getting underway against Italy in Cairns on October 29.
With the likes of Wigan’s Michael McIlorum, Brad Singleton from Leeds and St. Helens’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook among some notable names in his squad, Aston believes he has put together the best group of his six-year stint as coach.
“It is the best squad we have had, there is no doubt about that,” Aston told The Star.
“There is experience and there’s youth. There is a group of people in the squad that I have worked with before, and then there is a group that have put their hand up.
“It is certainly the best squad we have worked with, and we have had the best preparation too.
“With our pack of forwards we won’t take a backward step against anybody when you talk about the likes of Michael McIlorum and Brad Singleton.
“We also have a nice youthful look about us with the likes of Joe Philbin (Warrington), Toby King (Warrington) and Oliver Roberts (Huddersfield). It is exciting; it is a massive challenge for us, but one we are all looking forward to.”
With games also against Wales and Papua New Guinea, Aston will be looking to better their last effort in 2013 which saw the Wolfhounds beaten in all three group games.
This time around Aston confirmed a quarter-final spot is a realistic aim, but acknowledged the difficulty of the opposition in front of them.
“When you look at the group we have to play PNG in PNG which will be tough, we have Italy, then there’s the game against Wales which will all be about the passion and the pride. That’s three tough games,” he added.
“Italy have been strengthened by some players who didn’t make the Australia squad qualifying for them.
“We are looking forward to it.
“We have a good group of players. We think that we can qualify for the quarter-finals, and that’s what we are aiming for initially.”