The Lebanese Rugby League Federation has pointed to its expanding school’s rugby league championship, sponsored by construction and telecommunications company GMEA for the third successive year, as an indicator of further growth of the sport in the country.
The LRLF is in the process of rolling out a new schools and community club strategy which divides the country into operational districts and linking the two strata, together with a concerted effort to engage more support in the local community.
The recently concluded Schools Rugby League season is a promising marker for the strategy’s success. For the first time, the SRL was played under 13-a-side rules and although the competition was hit by the temporary withdrawals of Broummana High and Eastwood High – with parents unwilling to release their children to travel to sporting events because of the political situation – a total of 30 schoolboy matches were played.
Lebanese rugby league pioneers Balamand, from the north of the country, were defeated in the national championship final by newcomers Antonine 48-18, while Al Malaab High restored northern pride in the Shield play-off, defeating Beirut region finalists Saint Joseph Kornet Chewan 24-20.
Teenage players Roy Taouk and Ray Sabaat were mentored by their club Jounieh RLFC – the national champions - while introducing the game in Antonine.
“The difficulty came from teaching a group of individuals a team sport they have never played before, let alone ever heard of,” said Taouk. “As the days went by, the knowledge of the players increased and, with a little bit of expertise from Ray Sabat and I, we managed to win the SRL silverware.”
Long-serving north Lebanon development officer Nader Mgheit, added: “The situation in northern Lebanon is challenging to say the least. With the conflicts and tension that exists between Sunnis and Alawites it has made it extremely difficult for the students to securely travel to grounds for training and game day especially in terms of securing a playing field.”
“With the hardship and struggles comes success and we were able to use a pitch in the small town of Chekka. It wasn't in the best condition we managed to get the turf to a standard which is acceptable for the students to enjoy the game which they love in a secure and safe environment. And we are extremely excited that we managed to play the full SRL campaign.”