Lebanon RLF has announced an initial 48-man train-on squad for their two 2017 World Cup Qualifiers – MEA, against South Africa in Pretoria towards the end of the month.
Robbie Farah, who made his international debut for the Cedars as an 18-year-old in Tripoli in 2002, and current New South Wales winger Josh Mansour are the headliners included, along with a host of established international players.
“The squad is coming together in what is shaping up to be a big challenge, playing the South Africans in their own backyard,” said LRLF director Michael Hedwan, who has been closely involved with the coaching staff assembling the squad. “It has been 15 years since the Cedars last played in a World Cup and the mixture of youth, experience and the strengthening of the local competition indicates Lebanese rugby league has a bright future ahead.”
Players like captain Chris Saab and Ray Moujali are some of the longest serving in international rugby league, having represented Lebanon since 2003, winning caps against Morocco, France and Serbia in the Mediterranean Cup and Russia, Ireland, Wales, Italy and Samoa in previous World Cup qualifiers.
Lebanon came agonizingly close to qualification in 2008 and 2013, losing out on points difference both times, but the feeling is that this could be their year. Interest in the sport in the country, despite the social and political difficulties on the ground, is higher than ever.
Major media networks LBCI, Future, Al Manar and MTV are all heavily covering the Cedars’ campaign and will be sending crews to South Africa, and the Lebanese ambassador there has been promoting the two-match series throughout the country’s sizeable Lebanese population.
Head coach Darren Maroon, in his second stint with the national side, will trim the squad to 20 to make the trip.
Lebanon face South Africa on 25 and 31 October at the Bosman Stadium, Brakpan, just outside of Pretoria. The winner will be the first-ever Middle East Africa qualifier.
LEBANON 48-MAN TRAIN-ON SQUAD
Mark Daoud (Asquith Magpies), Danny Barakat, Jamie Clark, Richard Coorey, Abraham El Zakhem, Ead Kassem, Cliff Nye, Elias Sukkar (Auburn Warriors), Ali Allouche, Michael Lichaa, Anthony Semrany (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs),Casey Ellis, Chris Saab (Guildford Owls), James Boustani (Hills), Ghassan Dandash, Ray Sabat (Jounieh RLFC), Travis Robinson (Melbourne Storm), Ben Chahoud (Mount Pritchard), James Elias, Ryan Glanville, George Ndaira (Newcastle Knights), Daniel Abou Sleiman, Ahmed Ellaz, Tarek El Masri, Ray Moujalli (Newtown Jets), Wes Mourad (North Sydney Bears), Tim Mannah, Abbas Miskie, Reece Robinson, Alex Twal (Parramatta Eels), Liam Ayoub, Josh Mansour (Penrith Panthers), Nick Kassis, Mitchell Mamary (Wentworthville Magpies), Robbie Farah, Mitchell Moses, Jaleel Seve-Derbas (West Tigers), Ali Abou Arabi, Michael Elias, Kevin Sassin (Tripoli City RLFC), Toufic El Hage, Mike Tawk, Wael Harb (Wolves FC), Adham El Zbaidieh, Adnan El Zbaidieh, Karios Filiga, Jamal Nchouki (Unattached), Jason Wehbe (rugby union)