Malta’s veteran playmaker Jarrod Sammut has flown 11,000 miles at his own expense to take his place for the Knights against Lebanon in Wednesday’s one-off international rugby league clash on neutral turf in Sydney.
Sammut is currently plying his trade with Barrow in the north of England but the 35-year-old has dipped into his own wallet, not for the first time, to join the Maltese squad against one of the 16 men’s teams contesting this year’s World Cup in England.
Malta failed to qualify for the tournament – originally scheduled for last autumn – hence Lebanon have every right to be favourites for the Test at the home of Canterbury, arguably the most multicultural club in Australia’s National Rugby League competition.
The Cedars have hired ex-Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who has Lebanese ancestry, from the other rugby code in a major coup for the 13-a-side game, which is looking to revive its international offering after COVID-19 kept players sidelined for over two years.
However, in a blow to Lebanon, Cheika has been forced to miss the game at Belmore and has instead flown back to Buenos Aires to his other job – coach of Argentina in the 15-a-side game he is known throughout the world which rugby league broke away from in 1895.
Not only that, Lebanon has picked a largely developmental side with the nation’s big-name players from the NRL watching on from the stands to allow up-and-comers to have a crack at making the World Cup squad.
Ranked 15th in the world, Malta finally returned to the playing field in February this year when the Knights thrashed newcomers North Macedonia 54-6 in Sydney.
Since then, Malta has returned to The Rock, playing at the Charles Abela Stadium – Malta’s first appearance at home since 2018 – on May 14 when the Knights lifted the Medieval Shield with a 66-6 routing of Montenegro, another international newcomer but making steady progress via its participation in Balkan Super League.
Australian born-and-bred Sammut is one of only two players for Malta who played in that lopsided game against Montenegro, with most of the 19-man squad preparing to face Lebanon playing in second-tier competitions and below – in and around Australia’s biggest city.
Sammut is expected to play five-eighth in a team to be captained by North Sydney forward Tyler Cassel, with the versatile Zarrin Galea, who also played at Mosta, likely to be deployed in the centres.
Wednesday’s game, which kicks off at 11.30am Malta time, will be telecast live by Australia’s Kayo Sports and leads into a huge weekend for the international game in the Southern Hemisphere.
On Saturday, New Zealand play Tonga in Auckland before a double-header in Sydney where Samoa meet the Cook Islands and Fiji do battle with Papua New Guinea – all six teams joining Lebanon at the World Cup, which starts in England on October 15.
The tournament hosts continued their preparations last Saturday with an 18-4 win over the Combined Nations All Stars, stacked with European-based players from around the world, before France’s 34-10 victory over Wales, who hadn’t played a single Test themselves in nearly four years.