Malta and Lebanon do battle

International rugby league fever will visit the Western Weekender Stadium at St Marys when Malta takes on Lebanon on October 8 for the self professed Battle of the Phoenicians.

Lebanon- who begin their qualifying course for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup only weeks later will make their first international appearance since their 42-14 defeat of France in the 2004 Mediterranean Cup in Tripoli.

Lebanon hasn?t played a rugby league international in Sydney since they met a French Invitational touring team led by Paul Sironen in front of a 20,000 strong crowd at Telstra Stadium in 2001.

Malta?s last appearance saw a historic 36-6 victory over the England Lionhearts at Marsa Stadium in what was the first official fixture of rugby league on Maltese soil.

The Battle of the Phoenicians is set to attract a bumper crowd with Maltese and Lebanese migrants holding a strapping presence in Sydney?s multicultural community.

Malta head coach Joe Grima has earmarked several NRL stars in his preliminary squad for the Mediterranean backed international including the Parramatta Eels? Michael Vella and Sydney City Rooster Shane Shackleton.

NRL starters Hazem El Masri and Robbie Farah have both pulled on the Lebanese jersey in the past, yet this match will see Vella and Shackleton complete a first for Malta- an emerging rugby league nation.

St George-Illawarra Dragons hooker George Ndaira has been sounded out as a possible starter for the Lebanese Cedars.

Shackleton will finally achieve his Maltese representative honours after becoming a last minute omission last year following a decision by Roosters coach Ricky Stuart for the Roosters to begin pre-season training early.

?I was so filthy I didn?t go to Malta last year? says the ginger haired Shackleton.

Malta?s head coach is Parramatta Eels official Joe Grima and Grima is well aware of Lebanon?s well-built line-up, ?They?re (Lebanon) a very skilful side who possess great speed, mixed with their size and strength and are coached at a very high level?

Officials for the Maltese and Lebanese rugby league governing bodies are expecting a capacity crowd at the Western Sydney venue, the Western Weekender Stadium.

Photo: Malta?s Paul Harris and Lebanon?s Mohamed Chahal
c/- PJ Robinson