A Saint in Wigan

It’s Zammit with a Zee not Sammut with an S. Meet the latest Maltese international to ply their trade in the north of England, this time with Wigan St. Pats in the NCL.

Wigan, Malta, Penrith. You’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t anything that could possibly connect those three places. All three are thousands of miles apart for a start, there is a significant difference in the climate between them and two of them are more likely to be a holiday destination than the other. But there is a link. And he’s called Dean Zammit: A Maltese international from Penrith who has begun his Rugby League career in the UK with Wigan St. Patricks.

St. Pats are a club with a rich history of bringing through young Rugby League players and sending them on to Super League, international honours and beyond. They can even take the credit for the England rugby union team’s success in the last few years with Owen Farrell a former junior. And that history is what drew Zammit to this prestigious club.

He may not be a spring chicken at 27 like some of the young hopefuls working their way through the junior ranks with the club at the moment but Zammit is hoping that his work with Wigan can help his English Rugby League career take off.

“I knew they were one of the older and more famous amateur clubs within the whole of England,” he began. “You can see how many players have gone on to play in the Super League.”

But what drew a man, who had played with the same club, St Mary’s in the Ron Massey Cup competition, for the best part of 20 years to come to the UK to showcase his skills with an oval shaped ball?

“I just wanted to experience something different,” he explains. “I played for about ten years at a semi-professional level in Australia. I’m not getting any younger so it was probably time to make the transition. Me and my partner were looking to do some travelling.”

You may be thinking that Division 1 of the NCL is a bit of a come down from the Ron Massey Cup which is the league below the New South Wales Cup but Zammit has been impressed by the standard shown by his teammates and their early-season opponents.

“The standard is very high in the NCL. There are good players everywhere but in the early parts of the season, the conditions and the weather play a big part in games so a lot of our games have been a tough grind like the one against West Bowling who are a pretty formidable team themselves.

“But that plays into my hands because I’m a middle forward. Those games turn into a grind where they’re all about possession.

“Back home, we don’t get much rain out there, it’s always dry and hot. I’m getting used to it with the cold now but there are not many differences in the game. The conditions are more of a factor but I’ve noticed the guys still want to play an entertaining brand of Rugby League even when it’s wet. They want to throw the ball around which is always good but you can tell the teams that do go well have their structures.”

So how does Malta fit into all this? Zammit explains.

“My grandparents on my father’s side were both born there. They came to Australia at a young age. I got my heritage through them. I’ve been lucky enough to play for the national team for the last four years now.”

Luckily enough for Zammit, he’s moved to with ten minutes of the UK’s most famous Maltese Rugby League star, Jarrod Sammut.

“I’m really good mates With Jarrod. He’s helped me with the transition over. He’s been here for ten years playing for a number of teams. He grew up in the same area as I did back in Australia. He’s a Penrith junior as well. We’ve met up frequently to talk and grab some dinner.”

The Maltese team has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years with both Sammut and Zammit playing a key part in that and the latter has high hopes that they can continue to improve by testing themselves against quality opposition.

“We are planning on having a tour over here at the end of the year with games against Scotland and we are also looking to secure a second one against France. We’re ranked around 16th so our plan is to play teams that are higher ranked. We’ve had a good win against Italy who are higher ranked than us and we are setting our standards high but we know we have to be patient. I love playing for them, they’re a good bunch of blokes.”

Zammit was hoping that his Maltese heritage would provide him with the key to moving higher up the English divisions in the coming years by obtaining an EU passport or a heritage VISA. Fast forward into 2021 and he will be plying his trade with Whitehaven in the Championship.

“I just wanted to experience something different,” he told ‘Haven’s website on signing.

“It’s a different type of game over here. I’ve had a go in France before but really fancied giving the English game a go. I can’t wait to get going, get ripped into pre-season and meet all the lads.”

Zammit may not be the usual player to join Wigan St. Patricks but one thing is for sure, they provide as good a platform as any for budding Rugby League players who are willing to put in the hard work to achieve success.

This feature has been adapted from one first published in Rugby League World, Issue 468, April 2020