The Cedars qualified for their third Rugby League World Cup when beating South Africa in a two-match Middle East-Africa playoff on 31st October 2015 in Pretoria. Now with a considerable amount of NRL experience when compared to their qualifying team two years ago, the Cedars will look to avoid the foot of the table in Group A with Australia, England, and France. Interestingly, the Cedars’ best World Cup performance came in 2002, finishing above the Cook Islands in the same group as New Zealand and Wales. After losing out to Samoa in a repechage in 2008, they were edged out in qualification for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup by Italy. Now ranked 21st in the world rankings and 5th in Europe, statistically Lebanon are one of the weakest teams in the competition but have been in great form of late and should outperform their world ranking.
Under new management with NRL legend Brad Fittler at the helm, Lebanon are two from two after a 6-4 win against Italy in the Mediterranean Cup was backed up with a 32-16 victory over Niue last time out. More generally, however, the Cedars have gone unbeaten since October 2014, albeit among tier-two nations. They’ve got far more top level NRL experience in the squad this time round with Paramatta Eels’ Mitchel Moses and Tim Mannah, as well as Canterbury Bulldogs hooker Michael Lichaa and Wests’ Alex Twal backing up their NSW representative and Captain, Robbie Farah. It’s hard to say what to expect but Fittler looks to have had an immediate impact on the side along with the NRL level additions and as a result the Cedars look in good shape to go further than they ever have on the World Stage before.
Paramatta’s general finished the season in style having a large hand in the Eels’ finals charge in which they nearly beat the eventual Grand Final Champions, Melbourne Storm. After his switch to from Wests Tigers, Moses started playing some of his best rugby to date and Lebanon will hope he can carry it over into the World Cup. Last time out against Niue, however, Moses was absent and Robbie Farah played half back in order to get Michael Lichaa in the side at hooker. There is no doubt it was a good ploy from Fittler and we could well see Moses come in at Five-eighth to create a very respectable play making partnership with Robbie Farah. Regardless, Moses has the skill in both his kicking and attacking game to unlock the other sides in the Cedars’ group and may well be the difference between a wooden spoon and a chance to proceed to the knock out stages.
A Lebanon veteran, Saab has been part of three failed World Cup qualifying attempts and has had a lengthy career in the lower grades of Australian rugby league. At 35, this will be his fourth and final World Cup after being coaxed into the squad once more with the opportunity to play with his best friend Robbie Farah. Saab has earned the utmost respect from his peers over his lengthy 8 year international career, with team-mate Adnan El-Zbaidieh referring to him as “boss”, and Farah “the heart and soul” of the Cedars; Saab is clearly the keystone of the Lebanese side. While he might not be as well renowned as his fellow forward and countryman, Tim Mannah, he will undoubtedly help drive the pack on along side the NRL star, and more; Saab will be key in igniting the passion within the side as a Cedars veteran – especially with it being his last hurrah.
Lebanon have a quality side and despite drawing the toughest group in the competition, they should feel confident about making the top three of it. French rugby league has taken a turn for the worse this season with Catalans Dragons surviving by the skin of their teeth in Super League and the French national side lacking a cutting edge while containing a number of debutantes in their ranks. This is the perfect time for the Cedars to strike – and they should do so. Their first game is undoubtedly the biggest of the tournament for them when considering their tournament aspirations, and a win over France almost certainly puts them through to the ‘knockout’ stages of the World Cup. With their NRL stars on the park and an NRL legend at the helm I don’t see why they can’t beat Les Tricolores and make it a World Cup to remember. A win against France most likely gives them the biggest game in their history against Tonga or New Zealand in the knockout stages – what a story that would be. Lebanon for the quarter-finals.
Robbie Farah (Captain – South Sydney)
Mitchell Moses (Vice Captain – Parramatta Eels)
Danny Barakat (Wentworthville)
Jamie Clark (Auburn Warriors)
Adam Doueihi (South Sydney)
James Elias (West Newcastle)
Ahmad Ellaz (Auburn Warriors)
Nick Kassis (Blacktown Workers)
Andrew Kazzi (Wests Tigers)
Anthony Layoun (Parramatta Eels)
Michael Lichaa (Bulldogs)
Mitchell Mamary (Wentworthville)
Bilal Maarbani (Manly Sea Eagles)
Abbas Miski (North Sydney)
Tim Mannah (Parramatta Eels)
Ray Moujalli (Bulldogs)
Reece Robinson (unattached)
Travis Robinson (Newtown)
Chris Saab (Blacktown Workers)
Raymond Sabat (Lycans FC)
Jaleel Seve-Derbas (Wests Tigers)
Elias Sukkar (Wentworthville)
Alex Twal (Wests Tigers)
Jason Wehbe (unattached)