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Ten long seasons after retiring in the top grade, Malta?s greatest rugby league product Mario Fenech successfully completed a comeback to rugby league in making his debut for Malta over the weekend.
Mario helped lead from the front in Malta?s second fixture of day one at the Orara Valley Sevens on the outskirts of Coffs Harbour, where the Malta Knights were the flavour of the weekend.
Accepting the honorary captaincy, forty-two year old Fenech won the coin toss and made several stints on the field in Malta?s defeat of former premiership club Sydney University.
?it was a great thrill to represent our heritage? said Fenech.
In the fast paced atmosphere of ?Sevens? rugby league, Malta coach Joe Grima provided Fenech with several breathers before Fenech returned to pull off several copy-book tackles to the joy of the 4,000 strong crowd at the TOFOG Sportsground.
While the Barbarians (hosting players such as Tallis, Robbie O?Davis and Russell Crowe) played through to the quarterfinals, Fenech?s one-off appearance was enough to bring back the emotion.
?never would have dreamt of the time I?d represent Malta, but I?m absolutely honoured?
?it was tough?to say the least!? Fenech said.
?I was lucky to have the young boys around me, I nearly had a heart-attack?
Malta topped Group D while gaining the maximum bonus points on offer in the pool stages.
Fenech?s appearance on the Saturday was the beginning of a grand weekend for Maltese rugby league as they knocked out tournament favourites Fiji 24-8 before going through and falling to the Sydney Metro Aboriginal All-Stars in golden point extra time 36-32.
Malta captain and ex Cronulla Sharks NRL star Ben Sammut won the coveted ?player of the tournament? award while Eels? Jersey Flegg up and comer Simon Micallef finished equal top try scorer with 10 tries in 7 matches.
?it?s a great chance to kick on as big stepping stone for where we(Malta) want to get to(2008 World Cup)? says Sammut.
Footage of Mario?s debut for the Malta Knights will feature on Channel Nine?s Footy Show when the program returns for 2005.