The ending of a long-standing playing feud for the benefit of international rugby league will see Lebanon and Malta play for the Elias-Fenech Trophy when they meet at Canterbury’s Belmore Sport’s Ground on Wednesday 22 June (kick off 7.30pm local time), to begin the mid-season international fixture programme in the southern hemisphere.
The hookers had some feisty battles, culminating in a notorious semi final clash at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1986, when Balmain’s Benny Elias contrived to get South Sydney’s Mario Fenech sent off for an alleged – but ultimately self-inflicted – bite.
“I have the utmost respect for Mario, he has a big Maltese family, I come from a big Lebanese family,” said Elias, who met up again with Fenech in the lead up to the game. “When I was asked to be involved, I said ‘of course, it would be an honour.’ I know he feels the same, we have swapped punches for hugs.”
Both nations have named their 19-man squads for the clash, which will see Lebanon head coach Michael Cheika take charge of the nation for the first time, in the lead up to autumn’s World Cup. He has picked nine potential debutants, including Danny Ghantos on his home ground and Penrith Panther Hanna El Nachar, and will have the experienced Robinson brothers, Reece and Travis, at his disposal.
“Wednesdays Test match will be a great opportunity for some of our World Cup aspirants to showcase their skills,” said Cheika. “We will keep it simple and focus on how we blend together as a team and clearly show what’s important to us so we can connect with our Lebanese fans across the world, and how we play the game in their jersey.”
Malta, who defeated Montenegro at home last time out, will again have Jarrod Sammut in their ranks, having flown in from English Championship side Barrow. Malta head coach, Aaron McDonald, noted: “Tyler Cassel epitomises everything that a captain should before us, a natural leader who’s always in the thick of the action, he will wear the armband. I’m very pleased with the Malta players that are in contention and I’m confident we’ll give Lebanon the tough pre-World Cup warm-up that Michael is after.”
Bilal Maarbani, Adam Rizk (Blacktown Workers), Allan Lockwood (Burleigh Bears), Danny Ghantos (Canterbury Bulldogs), Daniel Arahu (Glebe), Donavon Boney (Manly),
Khalil Rahme (Mount Pritichard), Kayne Kalache (Newtown Jets), Elie El Zakham, Jabriel Kalache (Parramatta Eels), Hanna El Nachar (Penrith Panthers), Reece Robinson (Queanbeyan Roos), Christian Yassmin (Randwick), Jacob Karam. Josh Rizk (South Sydney), Travis Robinson (unattached), Nick Kassis, Josh Maree (Wentworthville), Michael Tannous (Wests Tigers)
Jarrod Sammut (Barrow Raiders), Zarrin Galea (Brighton Roosters), Nathan Benson (Carlton Devils Mackay), Jed Hardy (Gymea Gorillas), Joel Bradford (Hills Bulls), Jono Dallas (Jamberoo), Hayden Pace (Mackay Cutters), Jake Zammit (Newcastle Knights), Tyler Cassel (North Sydney Bears), Nathan Falzon (Nowra Bomaderry), Josh Vella (Ryde Eastwood Hawks), Aaron Grech (Shellharbour Sharks), Tallis Duncan (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Kyal Greene (The Oaks Tigers), Adam Campbell (Thirlmere Roosters), Anthony Bucca (Victorian Thunderbolts), Kyle Cassel (Wentworthville Magpies), Zachary Vella (Western Suburbs Magpies), Connor McDermott (Wests Tigers Mackay)