TWO childhood friends who have grown up playing rugby league together have been selected to head Down Under to represent England in the upcoming Student World Cup.

Matt Ross and Ben Stead, both from Keighley, will travel to Australia next month.

They will face the best student players from Australia, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the combined Pacific Islands team in the tournament.

The student competition is part of the Festival of World Cups, which will also feature Armed Forces teams.

Ross has just finished a degree in civil engineering at Nottingham Trent University, while Stead is a masters student in sports strength and conditioning at the University of Gloucestershire.

The pair, who are both 24, have played together from being 13 years old and went through the ranks together at Keighley Cougar Cubs and in the scholarship and academy systems at Keighley Cougars.

Stead has also represented the Cougars first team and currently plays for the University of Gloucestershire All Golds, while both have played together for League One outfit Hemel Stags as well as for England Students in the past two years.

To take part in the tournament, all members of the squad and voluntary coaching staff and management team have to raise £2,400, which covers kit and equipment, flights, accommodation, travel, insurance and tournament participation fees.

At the last tournament in 2013, which took place in the UK – with some games being played at Odsal Stadium in Bradford – England reached the final, only to be beaten by their arch-enemy Australia. This year's squad are hoping to go one better and beat the Aussies in their own back yard.

Ross, a former Aireville School student who plays prop and captained England Students last year, admitted he was "over the moon" when he found out he had been selected.

"When I first made the England Universities team back in 2015, I realised there was a chance to go to Australia, so it's mainly all I've been focusing on since," he said.

"It's a massive opportunity to go to the other side of the world and compete against some of the best students in the world.

"We play Australia in the opening match of the whole Festival of World Cups and that is one of the big things I'm looking forward to.

"It'll also be good to go on a big tour like this with 23 other lads, so I'm looking forward to the off-field side of things as much as the on-field.

"Ben and I have played together since the under-14s, so it'll be good to have him out there, and I'm sure he feels the same."

Ross added that playing in the World Cup will be his biggest achievement on the rugby pitch.

"I think playing for England at any level is a massive achievement and to play in a World Cup is something only a handful of players ever get to do," he said.

Former Holy Family Catholic School student Stead, who is a half-back, echoed his friend's thoughts.

He said: "It feels amazing to have been picked to represent my country in the World Cup. Every part of the trip will be unbelievable but the chance to win the World Cup over there would top the pile.

"Matty and I have enjoyed playing rugby with each other from a young age, so the chance to do something like this and represent our country with a good friend makes it very special."

The World Cup will run from Wednesday, July 5 to Monday, July 17. To sponsor Ross visit, while to sponsor Stead head to