The interest in international rugby league is currently undergoing a revival; sparked in part by the stunning emergence of Tonga as a global force, Jamaica’s recent fairy-tale qualification for the upcoming World Cup and the launch of the Oceania Cup which will feature round robin matches between New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.
All these; plus the accompanying opportunities for elite female players in the international area as well, are all examples of the wave of good news stories sweeping the international game.
In May next year, Greece and Norway will meet for the chance to write their own slice of World Cup history.
Six teams from Europe will compete for four places in the World Cup, with Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Russia and Spain having already qualified for the European playoffs.
Greece and Norway will face off in a one-off encounter in England, with the winner gaining the sixth and final spot.
The six teams will then be split into two round-robin pools where the winners and runner-up in each pool will qualify for the World Cup, meaning either team could be as few as two wins from a place in the Cup.
Hoping to lead the charge for Norway is 2018 Northern Pride Mal Meninga Cup coach Tye Ingebrigsten.
After a busy start to his coaching career – including premiership success at the Hervey Bay Seagulls, a grand final appearance with the Mareeba Gladiators as well as a stint in the Intrust Super Cup assisting with the Northern Pride – he is looking forward to playing again in 2019.
“It’s a really big honour to be able to represent Norway again,” Ingebrigtsen said.
“I’ve wanted to do it for a couple of years, but with coaching the timing hasn’t quite worked.
“I’m back playing this year though, so I’ve got six months to get fit if selected.”
At 186cm and 108kg, the former Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles Intrust Super Cup player represents a potent attacking weapon for the Vikings.
The last time he represented Norway was in 2011 where he scored two tries in a man of the match performance as they defeated Germany.
Former Norway team-mate and now assistant coach Lars Haigh described Ingebrigsten as ‘instrumental’ in getting Norway the win.
“(He played number six and) got us around the park well,” Haigh said.
“He gave us our direction and was very instrumental is getting us victory that day.”
For this upcoming match, the Rugby League International Federation has mandated that each side can only use four players from outside of their domestic competition.
Ingebrigsten qualifies through his paternal grandfather who lived in the town of Mo I Rana.
The ability to include someone as talented and experienced as him is a major coup for the Vikings as they look to qualify for their first World Cup.
- QRL Media covered Norway Rugby League earlier this year --> Honey Badger's brother steers Norway to huge league upset
One of the quirks of international qualification will see Ingebrigsten face off against former Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles team-mate Jordan Meads.
The pre-match banter already flying between the two, with Meads keen to talk up Norway’s chances.
“It’s no secret we are up against a Norway side that has arguably been the form team of the recent European qualifying games,” Meads said.
“They will be red hot favourites and deserve to be.
“I’ve played alongside (Ingebrigtsen) throughout our careers in Queensland (Intrust Super) Cup and he is a natural footy player.
“Tye, in addition to the other heritage players for Norway, will provide that extra class.”
The game could have a real family feel with Tye’s older brother Kim, a former Brisbane Wests Panthers A Grade player, offering to help the team.
“I contacted the Norwegian Vikings National coach and assistant coach and have offered to help out in any capacity,” Kim said.
“I’ll run water, whatever, anything I can do to share my knowledge of the game” said the current NRL accredited player agent.
The older Ingebrigsten was due to play for Norway in 2011, however the birth of his son Tannah prevented him from making the trip.
“It will mean a lot to the whole family to see Tye represent Norway again,” Kim said.
“His experience will be a huge boost for Norway in such an important game.”
Norway and Greece play in London on May 18, 2019 (the day after Norwegian Constitution day) at Trailfinders Sports Ground before the London Broncos and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats game.
**Matt Crowhurst is a QRL correspondent