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Malta breaks into top 10 of rugby league world rankings

Malta has made a major breakthrough in international rugby league, cracking the world’s top 10 – a first for any Maltese national sporting team. 

Thanks to a robust international programme that has put Australia’s once-mighty Kangaroos to shame, Malta has shot up the IRL’s official rankings, released less than 100 days before the World Cup kicks off in England.

Of the top 10 countries, Malta and last year’s Euro B winners Serbia are the only ones who will be spectators for the tournament.

Malta coach Aaron McDonald, an Australian school teacher who lives south of Sydney, said the latest ranking of No.10, compared to 15th in the world previously, further illustrated that the Knights had been punching way above their weight on the global stage.

“Very happy mate. We constantly seek games to develop our players – this is the result,” said McDonald, who has won eight of his 11 games since taking charge of the Maltese, albeit suffering a defeat in their most recent appearance against Lebanon.

“We just need to keep getting out on the park and build the game on the island,” he added, barely two weeks after Malta’s 30-14 loss to the Cedars, ironically now ranked at No.13 but among the 16 nations contesting the men’s World Cup, commencing on October 15. 

Maltese players and supporters were also thrilled upon hearing the news, especially Tyler Cassel, who recently had to rescue his partner in a canoe after their western Sydney home was surrounded by floodwaters.

“I’m not shocked because we’ve been working pretty hard for it over the past two years,” said the 27-year-old who plays for North Sydney in the New South Wales Rugby League’s premier competition – a second-tier league that feeds into Australia’s flagship NRL competition.

Cassel, who qualifies for Malta through his grandfather, has previously represented Scotland in the IRL’s Four Nations.

He said Malta’s next major goal was to qualify for the World Cup in France in 2025.

“Their footy in Malta has improved massively and this gives us the confidence to have a go at making the next World Cup, up against all the big boys. I hope this shows everyone in Malta that we’re making progress,” said the Knights captain, who’s currently injured, battling back and neck complaints.

Aside from Malta’s historic entry into the top 10, the other big talking point was Tonga’s elevation to No.2 behind New Zealand – despite losing to the Kiwis 26-6 in Auckland last month. 

Interestingly, Australia, which has dominated the international game for the past five decades, remains outside the top three – a legacy of the controversial position adopted by the governing body Down Under to keep the star-studded Kangaroos sidelined.

Australia has not played a Test match for almost three years and has not toured the northern hemisphere since 2016.

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