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 Chahalc/- PJ Robinson

Bennett no comment on Roosters rumour

BRISBANE coach Wayne Bennett has failed to kill off Sydney media speculation he'll end his 19 years with the Broncos to coach the Sydney Roosters next season.Bennett has been linked to an unconfirmed $2.4 million three-year offer from the Roosters to replace sacked coach Ricky Stuart. Bennett had an opportunity to lay reports to rest at a packed press conference following Brisbane's final training before tomorrow night's qualifying showdown with the Dragons, but declined to comment.Brisbane officials laughed off the possible shift yesterday but Bennett's failure to clear the air means the issue will fester through the finals series.

Carting it up with Stevo

HOW deep is your club?

Lion Red Fox Memorial Major Semi

WE are nearly there. We have one Grand Finalist resting this weekend, and we have the last two teams that will fight it out for that coveted second GF spot in the penultimate game in the Lion Red Fox Memorial

Superleague R27 Preview

THIS weekend should give some clarity over the final order of the top six as well as the identity of the club facing relegation, as there are only two rounds remaining before the play-offs and a maximum of four points up for grabs for each club. Getting close to the end of a long season for some clubs and with other clubs jockeying for positions, this week could very well be the week of the upsets? Game on!

Week 1 Semi Finals Preview

WE?VE arrived at the beginning of the end for season 2006 as eight clubs fight it out for the right to continue into weeks 2 and 3 of the semi finals series. This week throws up a few random situations and I don?t think everything is exactly as it seems.Funnily enough, three of the games are Grand Final replays from years gone by. As for the odds, well there?s a bit of value out there. From a betting and emotional hedge perspective, I?d look at backing the Sea Eagles and the Dragons into one another, and perhaps even the Raiders ? although any permutation of those three will get you some super value.I ended the regular season with 113 correct tips from 180 games (63%). That's not too bad in my books even though I've tipped like a dog some weeks. I hope all you people out there went well in your respective tipping comps, but it's a new game now and with it comes fresh opportunities for punting.Knights v Sea EaglesGame I sees Manly head up north to take on the Knights in a powerful clash at EnergyAustralia Stadium. The last time these two sides met in the finals was the 1997 Grand Final, and we all know what happened in that one.Manly are looking good I think. I know they went down last week v Melbourne but with Kennedy they grow another leg. I also thought they put in one of the better performances at Olympic Park recently. Last time they were in Newcastle they came away with a very controversial win after a knock-on from Steve Matai was let go. The back row is looking great and the team overall is pretty strong. With BK the bench is great and they should put up a huge fight and Leuluai or Bryant will drop off.In the Newcastle camp, there?s a few uncertainties. Thaiday has succumbed to the ankle injury that has dogged him for a few weeks with Seage deputising. I?m a bit unsure about the rest of the reserve though, Lowrie will probably find himself out in the cold but the rest is unclear. They put Penrith away nicely a fortnight ago and proved they had lots of points in them if tested.Overall, I favour the home side here. I know they?re coming off the bye but a strong home crowd and the freshness factor for Joey should be enough to carry them home. The forward contest will be absorbing and a big part of the outcome. Manly is solid value in a tight contest though, with the bookies offering $2.35Broncos v DragonsGame II kicks-off in Bris-Vegas where the Dragons travel to Lang Park with a bit of history behind them. Coach Brown is the only remaining legacy from the 1992/93 Grand Finals but a few players like Bailey, Barrett, Timmins and Ryles probably still remember the 44-28 shellacking in 2001 at the SFS.The Dragons have a pretty good track record up north, winning 3 of the past 4 contests at Suncorp. In fact, Saints have won the last three in a row against the Broncos which is a club record. But this is semi-finals football and it?s a totally different game. The ongoing saga with Head isn?t winning any friends I don?t think. They?ve been doing ok without him and to change a formula that has won three on the trot is bit dangerous I think. Plus they seem to rely an awful lot on scoring from kicks and need to get more ball to Gasnier.Let?s not be shy about it, Brisbane are on fire at the moment. They probably don?t want people to think this but I rate them as premiership favourites and they can get better. Hodges at the back is dynamic and Berrigan seems to be fitting in at hooker all of a sudden. Webcke and Civoniceva are carting it up as they always do and Lockyer is in good touch as well.I?m going to stick with the home team here and tip the Broncos. I think it?s too difficult to go against them in this one and they also have improvement left in them, plus Brisbane is due against them at Lang Park. For the Dragons to win they?ll need to be focussed 100% of the time and I?m not sure they can achieve that. They might want to put in that bit extra though, as I think they might be gone in week 1.Bulldogs v RaidersGame III sees the Raiders head up to Homebush to play the Bulldogs in the late Saturday game. This one is different to all other games as it offers little if any home ground advantage to Canterbury. It?s also a replay of the 1994 Grand Final which was a fair dinkum smash up by the Raiders.Canberra got the chocolates in round 14 at Telstra v the Bulldogs and amazingly their only loss in six games at this ground was the round 21 capitulation to the Rabbitohs. They?ll be primed for this occasion but I?m wondering how they?ll start the match. Smith from the bench won?t work that well I don?t think as Carney adds more impact. Interestingly, Canberra has never beaten Canterbury in a semi final (3-0 to the Dogs) but have won the big one in 1994 as mentioned earlier.Canterbury are looking ok now I think. Mason is back and he will add heaps to their outfit. I?m a bit worried that the Bulldogs have been playing within themselves over the past few weeks. But their bench is pretty light on and I?ve got my doubts over their backs. I?d prefer SBW in the forwards and probably use another centre, if they have any left, to add some more pace to the backline. That?s where they might get caught out in particular the taller Raiders backs could expose them under the high ball.I?m tipping an upset here with the Raiders to prevail. From what I?ve seen lately they have got what it takes to win a game like this and their forwards a pretty strong enabling them to get momentum over the Canterbury pack. At $3.05 they present great value.Storm v EelsGame IV of the finals has Melbourne at home to Parramatta in the most one-sided contest of the finals.For Melbourne to lose this one some life-changing things must take place. But all due respect to Parramatta ? I have admired the way they battled to get to the semis but in the past fortnight they have struggled to keep it together. Cayless is back which adds some power up front and I prefer Luke Burt at fullback. McKinnon was shocking last week ? how many tackles did he miss? The crux of a good team is there but they were pretty tired last week. It?s hard to see them getting up for this one given the venue and the respective form.As for Melbourne, well they need to put in a clinical display here and get back into that groove prior to the game against the Warriors. I think they?ve been off their best since the round 23 clash v Brisbane but they can make a statement to the rest of the comp with a resounding victory here. They?ve got the recent wood over Parra and have won the only finals game between the two clubs back in 1999 (18-16).So I?m tipping the Storm which is the obvious selection in this one. I?m not saying Parra can?t win but it would be a real stretch and pretty much outside the realms of possibility. The Eels are the longest odds for the win this weekend, as you?d expect, and they?re paying a handsome $3.65 for the win. But I think you?d be throwing your money away.

QLD Cup: There can be only one!

THREE grades of sudden death. Only two possible outcomes - elimination or adulation. Find out the low-down on Saturday's big day of preliminary finals at Dolphin Oval.

Fiji Rugby League Open Trials

THE Australian Fijian Rugby League will be holding open trials for selection into the Fiji Bati national side for the World Cup qualifiers on Saturday the 16th of September 2006 at Mascot Oval.Registration will begin at 11am.All players should be covered by the highest private health insurance. Please bring your boots, shorts and socks on the day.To be eligible to trial you must have either been born in Fiji, have at least 1 parent born in Fiji or at least 1 grand parent born in Fiji. You must also have been registered with a Rugby League club this season.If you are successful in this trial you will be selected into an Australian Fijian squad to play against the Fiji/NZ based players on the 23rd of September. The Fiji Bati will then be decided after this match.Please spread the word and get onto the coconut wireless to any Fijian Rugby League players you know. We don't want to leave any stone unturned in the search for talent.For more information please email [email protected]

I'm ready to go: Head

ST George Illawarra halfback Mathew Head has declared himself ready to go in Saturday night's qualifying final against Brisbane, though coach Nathan Brown will delay making a decision on whether he plays or not until game day.

Knights sign Sargent

NEWCASTLE Knights have signed sacked North Queensland prop Mitchell Sargent on a three year contract.

English referee Smith retires

ENGLISHMAN Russell Smith has retired from officiating after 15 years as a first grade rugby league referee.

Green Cleared to Play

THE Emerald Group Redcliffe Dolphins have received a boost in the lead up to preliminary final clash with the East Tigers this weekend. Interchange Back rower Danny Green was this afternoon cleared by the QRL judiciary to take his place in the Dolphins line up this weekend. "I'm very happy to have got off, this why we all play the game to be involved in the big games at this time of the year,I didn't want to be sitting in the pig pen on Saturday afternoon that's for sure" a relieved Green said. "There are a few things I will be working on to make sure I don't have to come up here again. I'd also like to thank the QRL for giving me the chance to put my case forward." Green said.

Round 26 Team of the Week

THE sweet smell of September is in the air and with it finals footy. But before we launch into the McIntyre 8 it?s worth noting that the final week of the regular season was an absolute bell-ringer with some tight results and burgeoning crowds across the board. So here?s the Round 26 League Unlimited Team of the Week and the final one for this season.

Costin Rises to the Top

VETERAN Brandon Costin has taken out the prestigious Courier-Mail Best and Fairest title, rugby league's longest-running player award.

Cullen laughs off link to Chooks

REPORTS the Sydney Roosters have targeted Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett have been met with laughter and surprise from the Broncos.

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