This year’s International Representative weekend will feature the inaugural clash between the South African Rhinos and the Malta Knights in a test that Rhinos coach Jon Wilson describes as being about “building our talent pool up.”
The Rhinos will have a strong Queensland flavour, featuring Tweed Heads Seagulls prop Shane Gillham, Halvor Harris (Lock, Townsville), Ashley Bull (Second row, Cairns), Jason King (Hooker, Emerald Cowboys), Byron Hutchinson (Centre, Runaway Bay) and Andre-Carl Joubert (Five Eighth, Springsure Mountain Men) as well as former Queensland based players Brendan and Jackson Frei.
South Africa’s long-term aim is to increase their international ranking points (they are currently ranked 35th) and push for World Cup qualification, however this test is about bringing the team together, establishing a culture and getting an idea of where they sit compared to a more established and experienced side like Malta, who are currently ranked 17th.
“We want to keep this group together and hopefully get them playing more regularly, perhaps with annual fixtures” Wilson said “We’ve picked a fairly hard first up test for this group, Malta have been together a long time and have a large talent pool of players playing at a high level” he said.
One of the key people in building that culture is former Ipswich Jet and Brisbane Bronco Gideon Mzembe. Mzembe, who has previously played for South Africa is the teams’ strength and conditioning coach and described representing his homeland as an honour. “My grandmother grew up in the apartheid era, it is truly an honour to represent South Africa, for all the people from those generations that never got the chance.” He said.
The Rhinos is a heritage team, meaning all of the players must have been born in South Africa to qualify.It is the first time the Rhinos have played in Australia since 2015 and should be one of the strongest South African sides assembled. As well as the Queensland contingent the side will include five players from NSW, five from Western Australia, one from New Zealand and two (Marcelle Viljoen and Zach Van Loggerenber) who will fly over from South Africa.
The test is being played on Sunday 24th of June at St Mary’s Rugby League stadium and will be live streamed. Go to the South African Rugby League Heritage Association Facebook page or the Malta Rugby League page for details of the stream.