Nigeria’s rugby league players helped celebrate the nation’s independence day by becoming the first side to retain the MEA Championship, defeating hosts Ghana 30-4 in the final, held at a rainy University of Ghana playing fields in Legon, Accra.
Led by young Betfred Super League players, St Helens’ half back Rio-Osayomwanbo Corkill and try scoring Hull KR back rower Daniel Okoro, the Nigerians were too strong in the first half, establishing a 22-0 lead at the break.
“It was a fantastic occasion, the guys played really well,” said Nigeria head coach for the tournament, former professional Bolu Fagborun. “I wanted them to start hot and they did, kicked well, put Ghana under pressure and to play in the right parts of the field, they handled the conditions really well. We spoke a lot during the week about what this tournament meant for us and seeing whether this team can take us all the way to France 2025 and the World Cup, we really have challenged them to progress and they showed their ambition in the sport. This region has a lot of potential.”
Nigeria posted six tries, the opener from former London and Castleford three-quarter Tuoyo Egodo, loose forward Michael Ayodeji adding two to three he posted in the semi final. Gabriel John, who was voted man of the tournament, landing three goals.
Ghana spurned a number of chances in the wet but the Leopards will join Nigeria in the 2023 MEA Cup, which will act as a qualifier for RLWC2025. “Obviously we are very disappointed,” said head coach Andy Gilvary, “But you can’t play for only 40 minutes against Nigeria and expect to get a result. Too many errors early in the tackle count cost is dearly but credit to the boys, they dug in for the second half and turned it around. Nigeria are a slick outfit and we are not far off.”
Daniel John, Isah Lawal, Tuoyo Egodo, Olisa Kelvin, Abdallah Balogun, Gabriel John, Rio Osayomwanbo, Ibrahim Suraj, Isa Omale, Emmanuel Onyekwe , Jude Abrackson, Daniel Okoro, Michael Ayodeji
(subs): Julian Godwin, Bashir Usman, Azuka Chika, Yuseef Akeem
Tries: Egodo (15), Ayodeji (20, 67), Okoro (25), Osman (39), Lawal (76)
Goals: John 3/6
Isaac Akuoko, Chris da Gama, John Bless Mensah, Desmond Geotrah, William Pearce Biney, Collins Ofosu, Sean Sabutey, Riddick Alibah, Philip Asomani, Nigel Sackey, Emmanuel AcheamPong, Bahah Bright, Oliver Puman
(Subs): Jonas Moorkaar, Levi Osei, Jordan Annan, Jonathon Adotey
Tries: Bless Mensah (44)
Goals: Da Gama 0/1
Half time: 22-0
Referee: Aaron Moore (England)
In the match for third place, Kenya picked up their first competition win, beating Cameroon 16-0 in the first meeting between the nations, centre Lucky Byron with two of their four tries.
Kenya head coach, John Mbai commented: “It was a much better performance by the boys. We couldn’t attack how we wanted because of the wet weather but were very happy to come out with our first win in the tournament.”
Cameroon, whose side was hit by air traffic strikes back home which affected some of their squad travelling, were indebted to Carol Manga who came out of retirement to captain the side. “This tournament was a reward for the sport in the region and takes the game onto the next level,” he said. “I cannot thank Ghana enough for their organization to accommodate us all, everyone can take something back home.”
Philemon Olang, Ramadhan Masete, Collins Ochieng, Lucky Byron, Jeol Inzuga, Shabani Hamed, Victor Ochieng, Horus Alela, Denish Ndinja, Paul Seda, Tony Khamdambi, James Maranga, Eliakim Kichoi
(Subs): Raymond Ekutu, Brian Mutua, Celestine Mboi, Wycliffe Ratemo
Tries: Olang (11), Bryon (17, 79), Iuzuga (34)
Goals: Hamed 0/4
Franck Watio, Mouhamed Embella, Manuel De Porta, Cyrille Kamole, Hermand Nguele, Patrick Nkouak, Martial Nzokou, Armel Damdja Tankeu, Elie Bekolo, Khalil Njoya, Paul Ndifor, Carol Manga, Fabrice Joufang
Half time: 12-0
Referee: Aaron Moore (England)