It’s little more than six months since Ryan Brierley was a Championship player with Leigh Centurions. Tomorrow night he will make his international debut against Australia. Having moved to Huddersfield Giants in March, half-back Brierley has experienced a season packed with experiences, not least getting regular Super League action and earning a first call up for Scotland.
“I’m very proud and privileged to walk out with a Scotland jersey on,” said Brierley, who will partner talisman Danny Brough in the halves. “This is the highlight of my career. To be an international player at 24 years old is something I never dream of.”
Scotland face the biggest task of their 22-year existence at Hull KR on Friday night. None of the fourth-seeded teams in the four previous tournament have won a game in 12 attempts, although Samoa but up a brave fight last time out. World Cup-holders Australia have not lost to anyone other than New Zealand for ten years, and it is a generation ago that they last lost to a team outside the top three in the world. Australia prepared for the Ladbrokes Four Nations tournament by comfortably beating New Zealand in Perth. Scotland saw off a Liam Harrison Select XIII in Barrow, in which Brierley scored a try and kicked six goals on his Bravehearts bow. But Scotland will field their strongest-ever team with several world-class stars.
“The squad we’ve got is unbelievable and to be among the likes of Danny Brough and Lachlan Coote is very special,” says the wiry Brierley, who was born and bred in Preston. “There’s an array of world class talent in this squad and I’m just proud to be a part of it. Playing alongside these players is a massive achievement on my behalf. It’s been an amazing season, from the Championship to being an international is a huge step and hopefully I can continue at that level for many years to come.”
As they went through their final training session at KC Lightstream Stadium today, the Scotland squad looked relaxed and upbeat despite the challenge ahead.
“It’s the biggest tournament of our lives,” says Brierley, whose family are from Kilwinning in Ayrshire. “When you’re playing the best team in the world it automatically brings pressure upon yourself, pressure from within. But you’ve just got to do what you’ve been doing all year as that’s what’s got you in the team. Once you’re in there you’ve got to prove it all again. If you don’t enjoy that pressure and you don’t enjoy it then you’re in the wrong sport.
“First and foremost I’m a rugby league fan so I love every minute of being out there and I’ll never moan about where I’m playing or who with. I think I’ve got the best job in the world: playing rugby league for a living.”
Scotland made one change today to their 19-man squad to face Australia due to injury, uncapped Wests Tigers centre Tyler Cassel replacing Workington pivot Callum Phillips.
Scotland squad to face Australia:
Alphabetical by 2016 clubs: Danny Addy, Dale Ferguson, Ben Kavanagh (Bradford Bulls); Frankie Mariano (Castleford Tigers); Luke Douglas (Gold Coast Titans), Ryan Brierley, Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants); Adam Walker (Hull KR); Billy McConnachie (Ipswich Jets); Liam Hood (Leigh Centurions); Ben Hellewell (London Broncos); Sheldon Powe-Hobbs (Northern Pride); Lachlan Coote, Kane Linnett (North Queensland Cowboys); Euan Aitken (St George Illawarra Dragons); Matthew Russell (Warrington Wolves); Tyler Cassel (Wests Tigers); Sam Brooks (Widnes Vikings); Lewis Tierney (Wigan Warriors).