By Sean Teuma, Date: 4/5/17 (Photo Credit: Sean Teuma)
You wouldn’t expect a training session at Merrylands Oval on a Wednesday night to mean much.
In the distance, there was people having a hit of social tennis, whilst on the lower oval, parents watched as their kids completed soccer training.
On the rugby league field however, the dedicated players, coaching staff and officials of the Maltese national team were plotting how to take down the might of Lebanon in the Phoenician Cup, the side with its own target of shocking everyone at the upcoming World Cup.
As the Sydney-based players gathered at the suburban ground, there was an air of confidence, with captain Jake Attard leading that charge.
He knows that their upcoming clash on May 6 will be hard-fought, and realises that the battle up-front will go a long way to determining the winner.
“If we win the ruck, we’ll win the game,” Attard said.
“Our biggest challenge is stopping their forward pack. Their pack is their go-to, they’ve got a lot of experience and they’ve been playing for as long as I can remember.”
It’s a healthy respect that the Blacktown Workers hooker has for his opponents, and with good reason.
With mainstay Ray Moujalli leading the charge of the Lebanese forwards, Malta will need to match their intensity and hold them in the opening period of the game.
Attard knows they have to weather the early storm that they will be faced with, however is confident that his team can play to their strengths.
“Our biggest strengths are our speed around the ruck for sure. We’re quick, fast and smart. That’s how we win games at Malta.”
Despite their upbeat attitude heading into the game, it hasn’t been easy for Malta to build momentum with their side.
They don’t have the luxury of contracts pushing seven figures, or the chance for a full-time camp.
They meet for a handful of training sessions after work without their full squad in attendance.
With what little time they do have together, they certainly make the most of it.
“We’ve got our captain’s run on Friday and then after we’ll have a team dinner and jersey presentation, as well as getting a few photos,” Attard said.
It’s the first chance they’ll have to bond together as a team, as they have players from Newcastle, Byron Bay and Queensland coming down to Sydney to represent their country.
Attard made his international debut earlier this year as captain when Malta defeated the Philippine Tamaraws, and it’s a privilege that he certainly hasn’t taken lightly
“It’s an honour to run out as captain. It’s something that I’m very proud of, and something that my family is proud of too. I won’t be taking it for granted.”
Malta Knights vs Lebanon Cedars
Kick-off Saturday 6 May, 7.30pm (U/18’s match at 5.30pm)
New Era Stadium, Cabramatta
Mario el Boustani, Nick Kassis (Blacktown Workers), Brandon Bou Melhem, Kayne Kalache, Raymond Moujalli, (Bulldogs) Mark Daoud (Asquith), Abraham el-Zakhem, Elie el-Zakhem, Ahmad Ellaz, Jamie Clark (Auburn Warriors), Bilal Maarbani (Manly Sea eagles), Ben Chahoud (Mounties), Khaled Deeb (Newtown), Abbas Miskie (North Sydney), Anthony Layout (Parramatta), Raymond Maroun (Penrith), Adam Doueihi (South Sydney), Danny Barakat, Elias Sukkar, Tarek El Masri, Mitchel Mamary (Wentworthville), Andrew Kazzi, Jaleel See-Derbes, (Wests Tigers)
Samuel Buttel (Asquith Magpies), Dylan Wilson (Ballina Seagulls), Clifford Debattista (Gozo RL – Maltese Islands), Jake Attard, Joel Bradford, Aaron Weston (Hills Bulls), Aaron Grech (La Perouse Panthers), Joshua Martin (Manly Sea Eagles), Luke Cauchi, Jye Ellul (Mounties), Nathan Falzon (Nowra Bomaderry Jets), Nathan Simpson (Picton Magpies), Timothy Good, Matt Thompson (St Clair), Dean Zammit (St Marys), Nathan Benson (Souths Sharks Mackay), Kyal Greene (The Oaks Tigers), Benjamin Stone (West Rosellas RLFC)
LEBANON U18 SQUAD
Abdalla Mattar, Adam Rizk, (Balmain), Nabil Allouche ( Bass Hill Broncos), Adam Hamawi (Bulldogs), Charbel Bahkos (Enfield Federals), Nathan Chadid (Hills Bulls), Ethan Abou Ghaida (Illawarra), Nicholas Kairouz (Manly), Ali Saad, Anthony Sakr, Arisento Sleiman, George Yarak (Norths), Joshua Boumelhem, Arthur Melhem (Parramatta), Charbel Yacoub (Parramatta City Titans), Joe Akiki (St Johns ), Albert Rahme (St Clair), Jeffrey Alam, Les Abdennour, (St George)
MALTA U18 SQUAD
Liam Amato, Luke Azzopardi (Hills District Bulls JRL), Ryan Azzopardi (Riverstone JRL), Dylan Camilleri (St Clair Comets), Joel Cauchi (St Patrick’s Blacktown JRL), Joshua Colin Cregan (Bass Hill Broncos), Joshua Debattista (Cabramatta), Zach Dimech (Wentworthville JRL), Zarrin Galea (Narromine Jets JRL), Trevor Graham (Penrith Waratahs), Lewis Mallia, Jarrod Xerri, Brandon Wing (Windsor), Ben Mallia (South Coast Group 7), Christopher Mercieca (Riverstone JRL), Jasper Schembri (St John’s Dubbo) , Jake Simpson (Tahmoor Roosters), Dane Wilson (Byron Bay RL), Jake Xuereb (Emu Plains JRL), William Zammit (Cooma Colts District JRL)