Emerging from the rugby league shadows, Malta provided an entertaining and successful appearance in their first Sevens competition, the 2005 Orara Valley Sevens on Australia?s east coast at Coffs Harbour.
Following the initial hype surrounding the US Tomahawks and arrival of Fiji national teams, Malta soon became the talking point as they blitzed their opposition on day one at the TOFOG Sportsground.
Malta finished the tournament 4th overall of twenty-eight teams, but as MRLA chairman George Tonna said, Malta was the winner at the end of the weekend.
?to come 4th overall(of 28 teams) is a great start to our international tournament debut, the caliber of teams were competitive and the Malta Knights enjoyed the competition?
Following their arrival in camp, Malta began in promising style defeating reigning Group 19 Premiers for the past 3 seasons Guyra Super Spuds 30-10 with star halfback Ryan Borg proving the master with several great balls that left the country boys searching in the soil while Borg scored one himself. Ryan Borg was also the provider for Ben Sammut?s two tries, accredited by skipper Sammut.
?Ryan set me up twice in the first game?I would have thought he?d been close to player of the tournament overall? acknowledged Sammut.
?I love Sevens football? Borg later said.
The ?Maltese Falcon? Mario Fenech made his much anticipated appearance in game two against former premiership club Sydney University in a close encounter that saw Malta prove too strong and led well by their halves combination of Sammut & Borg. With the Channel 9 cameras following all the action from the sideline, Malta knocked up five tries to take home the bonus point (awarded for scoring 5 tries or more) and move clear at the top of Group D.
?Lucky I had the young boys around me, I nearly had a heart-attack? Fenech said after the match.
Malta Knights continued their dominance in game 3 with a demolishing performance of the Coffs Harbour Comets to the tune of 36 points to 6 after taking to a commanding 22-0 lead at half time. Daniel Spiteri put his classy speed on show in outracing the Comets? outside backs to the line, scoring 2 tries.
Malta topped Group D with maximum bonus points, clearly moving onto Day two and sounding the warning bells for other title hopefuls.
Day two saw Malta meet tournament favourites Fiji led by Semesa Cadrakilagi who had been all the rage in the days leading up to the tournament, yet an inspirational team talk from coach Joe Grima saw Malta pull an upset worth remembering in their first match against a full international team to the tune of 24-8.
With Malta leading 14-8 at half time, the turning point came when; from a restart Fiji raced 50 metres to score, only to be called back to the halfway line by the referee who met with the touch-judge in regards to the Fiji Bati team fielding 8 players rather than the 7 allowed. Fiji were consequently penalised with Malta capitalising through a try to Steven Azzopardi. Malta held out the Fiji Bati team to record a crushing defeat of the flamboyant boys from across the Pacific.
Semi-final time and reigning CRL Group 2 premiers Macksville Bulldogs, boasting ex Bulldogs? first grader Ewan McGrady were outdone by the Maltese, 36-14. Macksville had qualified to day two after coming through Group B, which included the Fiji national team as well as the Sydney Metro Aboriginal All-Stars as first round opponents.
Finals time at most Sevens? tournaments often see?s an Aboriginal representative side in the thick of things and the Orara Valley Sevens was no different, however their opponents; the Malta Knights were new to the scene and turned up to put it to the Sydney Metro Aboriginal All-Stars (SMAA) who boasted a mix of Premier League and A Grade talent from over Sydney.
A try a piece into half time at 16-all, and furthermore bringing the curtain down on the second half at 32-all, Malta and SMAA went into golden point extra time. Neither could break the deadlock as both sides took shots from field goal range, that of Malta?s Brendan Russell just one of the failed attempts.
SMAA brought an end to Malta?s winning Sevens? campaign with 30 seconds to play in the second half of golden point extra time as Brendan ?Bear? Lewis broke Malta?s defensive line on the halfway and slipped the ball away to the flying SMAA winger who crossed to steal a 36-32 victory and push Malta into a 3rd/4th Play-off encounter.
Having won the hearts of the country crowd already, Malta played-off against the Sydney Bulls (2004 Jim Beam Cup premiers) as the rains came across overhead for the first time on a hot and humid weekend.
Malta?s Willie Grech, a crowd favourite within the Bulls fans, enjoyed the game immensely against his club teammates.
?was great out there?a few head-butts and eye gouges?? Grech joked.
Sydney Bulls defeated Malta 12-8, leaving Malta claim $500 prize money for their outstanding efforts.
MRLA Chairman George Tonna couldn?t hold his emotion in congratulating the players, coaching staff and board on having Malta represented at this inaugural Sevens tournament.
?to all the board members, thank you for all your dedication. This would not be possible without your assistance?
??Joe Grima and his coaching staff, they were totally professional and thank them for their hard work?
?to all the players, thanks again for coming together to represent our Maltese heritage at this new tournament?
?I am proud to be part of the structure of this new Orara Valley tournament and look forward to returning in 2006? Tonna went on.
?It was a well-run tournament that Joe Mc Menemy, Kevin Elks and his board should be happy with their efforts?
Tonna, an avid South Sydney supporter realised a dream as Rabbitohs legend Mario Fenech threw on the Malta jersey, ?It was finally great to see Mario Fenech in a Malta Knights jersey? Tonna said.
?he played with the same passion and determination as when he played for the South Sydney Rabbitohs?
Tonna paid tribute to Malta?s halves combination that directed the Knights around the park over the weekend.
?Ben Sammut played a great captain?s knock and rallied the boys in our finals endeavour while Ryan Borg is the next superstar of Maltese rugby league. The enthusiasm and energetic style of play will go a long way to making him an NRL star?
Ben Sammut was crowned Orara Valley Sevens Player of the Tournament, earning him $1600 worth of Oxy-Shot products while halfback Ryan Borg took out Malta?s in-house honours as Malta Knights player of the tournament.
Up & coming Parramatta Eels talent Simon Micallef was a regular on the try scoring sheets, taking out equal honours as tournament top try scorer.
George Tonna also thanked supporters and Joe Borg from Ubeeco-Packaging Solutions for funding the Malta Knights tournament apperance.
?Thanks to our sponsor and tournament sponsors alike in Penrith Subaru and Joe Borg through Ubeeco-Packaging Solutions for their gracious support and also to the family, friends and supporters in general for a great weekend?
2005 Orara Valley Sevens Player of the Tournament Winner: Ben Sammut (Malta) 2005 Orara Valley Sevens Player of the Tournament Runner-Up: Ryan Borg (Malta) 2005 Orara Valley Sevens Player of the Tournament Third Place: Troy Robinson (Orara Valley Green) 2005 Orara Valley Top Try scorer: David Pickvance (Macksville) 10 tries [Pickvance takes award on percentages] Adam Elizbaidieh (Lebanon) 10 tries Simon Micallef (Malta) 10 tries Maltese Rugby League Association (MRLA) Player of the Tournament: Ryan Borg (Malta)
Inner Circle Rum Orara Valley Sevens TOFOG Sportsground- January 22 & 23 2005
Day One Game One: 11:40am Malta 32 ( D Spiteri 2, B Sammut 2, R Borg, W Grech tries. B Sammut 2 from 2, D Spiteri 1 from 2, R Borg 1 from 1, W Grech 0 from 1 goals) def. Guyra 14 H-T Malta led 12-10
Game 2: 2:40pm Malta 26 (S Micallef 2, D Spiteri 1, P Marzella, R Borg tries. S Micallef 1 from 2, R Borg 1 from 1, D Spiteri 1 from 1, P Marzella 0 from 1 goals) def. Sydney University 18 H-T Malta led 16-8
Game 3: 4:20pm Malta 36 (S Micallef 2, M Zammit 2, D Spiteri 2, R Borg tries. S Micallef 2 from 2, M Zammit 1 from 2, D Spiteri 0 from 2, R Borg 1 from 1 goals) def. Coffs Harbour Comets 6 H-T Malta led 22-0
GROUP D Standings Malta 9 Points Guyra 5 Pts Sydney University 2 Pts Coffs Harbour 0 Pts
Day Two Quarter Final: 11:30am Malta 24 (S Micallef 2, R Borg, S Azzopardi, M Zammit tries. S Micallef 1 from 2, Borg 1 from 1, S Azzopardi 0 from 1, M Zammit 0 from 1 goals) def. Fiji 8 H-T Malta 14-8
Semi Final: 1:30pm Malta 36 (S Micallef 2, R Borg 2, P Marzella, W Grech, M Zammit tries. R Borg 2 from 2, M Zammit 1 from 1, P Marzella 1 from 1, S Micallef 0 from 2, W Grech 0 from 1 goals) def. Macksville Bulldogs 14 H-T Malta led 20-4
Preliminary Final: 3:00pm Malta 32 (D Spiteri 2, S Micallef, P Marzella, B Sammut, W Grech tries. B Sammut 1 from 1, D Spiteri 0 from 2, S Micallef 1 from 1, P Marzella 1 from 1, W Grech 1 from 1 goals) lost to Sydney Metro Aboriginal All-Stars 36 H-T 16-all F-T 32-all H-T(Extra time) 32-all
3rd/4th Play-off: 4:00pm Malta 8 (S Micallef, R Borg tries, S Micallef 0 from 1, R Borg 0 from 1 goals) lost to Sydney Bulls 12 H-T Nil all
2005 Orara Valley Sevens Final Standings (Of 28 teams): 1st: Lebanon 2nd: Sydney Metro Aboriginal All-Stars 3rd: Sydney Bulls 4th: Malta Knights 5th: Barbarians 6th: Macksville Bulldogs 7th: North Sydney Old Boys 8th: Fiji
Malta Knights Point Scorers Simon Micallef- 10 tries, 5 goals, 50 points Ryan Borg- 7 tries, 6 goals, 40 points Daniel Spiteri- 7 tries, 2 goals, 32 points Matt Zammit- 4 tries, 2 goals, 20 points Ben Sammut- 3 tries, 3 goals, 18 points Paul Marzella- 3 tries, 2 goals, 16 points Willie Grech- 3 tries, 1 goal, 14 points Steven Azzopardi- 1 try, 0 goals, 4 points