Welcome to the first of many editions of Road to the World Cup. Each week I’ll be previewing one of the 14 nations that will be competing in this year’s Rugby League World Cup. With plenty of interesting facts and some new information for the run of the mill fan, we’ll essentially be previewing each nation’s chances in the end of season tournament.
I decided that the first team I would preview would be Lebanon; a country not known for it’s rugby league history but with plenty of former and current players with Lebanese heritage.
This will be Lebanon’s first World Cup since their inaugural and only participation in the 2000 event, so it will be a big occasion for the growing nation.
The Journey So Far
The Cedars qualified for the 2017 World Cup in a two match playoff series against South Africa, which they won 90-28 on aggregate. They also partook in the Phoenician Cup as a warm up against Malta earlier this year, which they won 24-4, with winger Abbas Miski scoring a hat trick.
It’s important to note that none of the ‘mainstays’ in this article have played for the Cedars except for Robbie Farah and Josh Mansour who last wore the jersey in 2002 and 2009 respectively, prior to their NRL debuts.
Lebanon will be able to field a strong core contingent of NRL talent, including the likes of Robbie Farah, Mitch Moses, Tim Mannah, Michael Lichaa and Josh Mansour, should he not play for Australia.
Due to a majority of the squad being local grade players, it could cause a change of positions for some of the players, such as Robbie Farah playing halfback and Josh Mansour at fullback, if he’s included.
A spine of Mansour, Moses, Farah and Lichaa is a luxury for an international side like Lebanon, and with a forward pack headed by natural leader Tim Mannah, they could surprise plenty in the tournament.
Ones to Watch
A combination of up and coming talent and lower grade experience could help solidify Lebanon’s standings in the World Cup.
Adam Doueihi is the current five-eighth for the South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Holden Cup side, and has impressed so far, playing a handful of NSW Cup games at just 18 years of age. The former Rugby Union Schoolboy is a big body for a five-eighth, standing at 196cm and weighing 98 kg.
Look out for Doueihi’s North Sydney Bears teammate Abbas Miski, who is a blockbusting winger and Josh Mansour doppelgänger. The bearded outside back has been a consistent performer in the NSW Cup and at only 22 years of age could impress for an NRL contract for 2018.
Towering prop Alex Twal is highly regarded as one of the best young forwards in rugby league, and after transferring to the Wests Tigers mid season, I’m tipping him to play some NRL before season’s end. Helping him in the forward pack will be reserve grade veteran Ray Moujalli, who is a NSW Cup legend. The 32 year old front rower played his only first grade game with the Roosters in 2009, but has been in the Cedars team since 2003, playing 11 games and scoring 5 tries in the process.
Travis Robinson is the final player on my players to watch. The brother of former Raiders, Broncos and Eels player Reece is a versatile and speedy outside back who has also had some first grade experience with the Melbourne Storm. His utility value will be imperative for the Cedars, being able to play anywhere in the outside backs, and his strike rate at international level is impressive, scoring 10 tries in 5 games.
Coach: Brad Fittler
After losing Ivan Cleary to the Wests Tigers earlier this year, the Lebanon Rugby League were scrambling for a coach, and they’ve struck gold with Brad Fittler. It’s a credit to Fittler’s credentials as a person, having taken the reigns after the Cedars lost Ivan Cleary to circumstances when there was no one else available.
While Freddy’s coaching record isn’t as glamorous as his playing career, he is a highly respected person in the league world and has worked in the rep scene before, coaching NSW City to three wins, including a victory in this year’s final City Country match.
Prediction: Will Fail To Make Finals
Unfortunately for Lebanon they’ve been selected in the same group as Australia and England, two nations which most likely will finish off in the top two.
The quality of players just isn’t enough to take on two of the top rugby league nations in the world, however I think they have enough firepower to compete in most of their games.
They do have a genuine chance against France, and I think they’ll be able to defeat them in their match in Canberra.