The Federazione Italiana Rugby League and the Lebanese Rugby League Federation have named their squads for the Mediterranean Cup, which will be contested for the first time in 12 years, under RLEF rules, on 12 June 2016 in Catania, Sicily. Both nations will field exclusively ‘domestic quota’ players.
“We had the idea of reviving the Med Cup a long time ago,” said FIRL vice-president, Tiziano Franchini. “Now we have moved from words to action. It will be a pleasure on Sunday to fight to win this prestigious trophy.”
Lebanon, `The Cedars’ are current holders of the trophy, having beaten Serbia, Morocco and France Espoirs, in 2004. Lebanon interim head coach, Tarik Houchar – who coaches Guildford Owls, in the Ron Massey Cup in New South Wales – has flown into Beirut to prepare the players, and lead the squad to Sicily for his country’s sixth meeting with the Azzurri.
“My arrival back in Lebanon has been overwhelming,” said Houchar. “Since I last came here a year ago I have seen a great improvement in all players, in terms of skill level and understanding of the game, which has made my job a lot easier.”
Of the squad that qualified for the 2017 World Cup in South Africa, Toufic El Hajj and Ray Finan are both injured, but Robin Hachache and Wael Harb who also travelled there retain their places. The pair’s experience will be imperative, in a young squad that has 15 debutants, even though six of those have played for Lebanon national teams at U16, U18 and U20 levels.
“There are some amazing stories to tell, about how much effort some players are going through just to attend a training session,” continued Houchar. “One travels two hours by public transport from the mountains. Players take nothing for granted here.
“Their passion, commitment and attitude towards representing Lebanon is a reflection of how far they have come, improving as players and as people in general. The strong bond they have forged is actually having an effect on me; they are bleeding for this game, and in my preparation I am prepared to do whatever it takes, to see these boys play more international fixtures and club games.”
Italy will be coached by Leo Epifania, the former Western Suburbs and Illawarra Steelers player, already the chosen assistant coach to Cameron Ciraldo for this autumn’s European World Cup qualifiers. His 25-man squad covering eight club sides, contains 20 debutants; a blend of new players from FIRL’s Sicilian operation, and seasoned campaigners such as hooker Simone Boscolo and second row and captain Gioele Celerino.
ITALY 25-MAN SQUAD: Simone Boscolo, Francesco Cominato, Matthew Sands, Michele Sutto (Arieti Este), Agatino Magrì (Belpasso Rectores), Riccardo Dodi (Brianza Tigers), Guiseppe Pagani, Luca Rossetti, Albert Stiopei (Lions Brescia), Catalin Diac, Jaume Giorgis (North West Roosters), Gioele Celerino (Newcastle Thunder), Hliwa Achraf, Antonino Arrigo, Riccardo Crocellà, Luca Ferrarello, Alessandro Florio, Igor Giammario, Massimilano Giannino, Diego Irato, Matteo Mazzoleni, Edoardo Pezzano, Michael Russo (Spartans Catania), Davide Spinnato, Francesco Di Trapani (XIII Lovers Palermo)
LEBANON 20-MAN SQUAD: Ghassan Dandach, Roy Taouk, Steven Sokhen (Jounieh RLFC), Kahil Bejjani, Imad Chidiac, Robin Hachache, Rudy Hachache, Mounir Finan, Jad Hachem, George Maalouf, Hazem Tawil, Nabil Tawil, (Immortals RLFC), Ali Abou Arabi, Rami Abboud, Joesph Aslan (Tripoli RLFC, UOB), Wael Harb, Gianni Hamoudeh, Raymond Sabat, Mike Tawk, Joseph Zeidan (Wolves RLFC)