A TRIP to Eastern Europe by a group of amateur rugby league players from York has been hailed as a ‘massive success’.

Organised by York Acorn coach Leigh Paul-Rientoul and New Earswick All Blacks’ committee member Gary Dickenson, the trip took 12 players from the area’s four leading clubs on a 4,000 mile round journey to Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine.

Once there, they were treated as visiting dignitaries and took part in three games against Ukrainian representative sides.

The trip will not only boost the development of rugby league in the former Soviet republic state but is also designed to play a part in the revival of York & District Amateur Rugby League.

Plans are now in the pipeline to visit other European countries and coaches have expressed interest in setting up a regional junior side.

“Everyone has bought into what we are trying to achieve and it was a massive success,” said Paul-Rientoul, a former Great Britain amateur international and Yorkshire coach for the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA).

“We made sure the lads understood how important it was to set the right standard on the first ever tour by a York & District representative side.

“It was not a holiday or a stag do, it was something we wanted to do ‘professionally’ and with everything in good order,” he said.

The York and District squad included players from York Acorn, Heworth, New Earswick All Blacks and York Lokomotive.

Over 200 people attended the games which were staged at the city’s army base.

After victories over both the Ukraine East and Ukraine West, York were narrowly beaten 14-12 in the final.

Heworth’s halfback Liam Jackson was awarded the Player of the Tournament.

On the night before the tournament, the travelling York party attended a civic function, took part in a question-and-answer session, and were interviewed by Ukrainian TV.

“Going over there has been a massive help to Ukrainian rugby,” said Paul-Rientoul. “As a national side, they are ranked 22nd in the world and their coaches used these games to finalise selections for a tournament in Serbia next month

“They are not a rich country and we self-funded our trip. We also took over any spare training gear we had at home and gave it to them which they really appreciated.”

Organisers of the trip were meeting again last night in York to discuss ways of building on their ground-breaking venture.

“Now that players in the area know about this tour, they all want to get involved,” said Paul-Rientoul. “It was organised in a short-space of time and, naturally, there are players who feel they should have been invited too. So we are going to set up trials in future where we will pick the best players.

“We have also got coaches ringing up now asking if we can help set up a York & District ‘junior’ side,” he added. “We want to do that because there has not been one for a good ten years as far as I am aware.

“Then we have to start planning our next year. We would like to visit somewhere different next time but, if we do, we will certainly be inviting the Ukrainians along.

“It took 18 hours to get from my house in York to Kharkiv - so we will be looking at countries a bit closer to home, like France, Germany, or Italy. We don’t want another massive journey.”

There are also plans to stage another East v West ‘Yorigin’ clash at Clifton Park. The first was held in December in memory of York RL ‘legend’ Stuart Evans, a long-serving match official and administrator and a well-known advocate of York & District ARL.