Lebanon head coach Michael Cheika has welcomed a message from the World Cup organisers, that plans for the staging of the tournament will go ahead as scheduled.
‘The Cedars’, who in 2017 made it out of the group stages, pulled off a huge statement of intent with the announcement of the former Wallabies’ boss as their man in charge. Born in Australia to Lebanese parents, Cheika is desperate to make a difference.
“Originally an immigrant kid from Lebanon, with a lot of family back there, I see how much everyone is struggling and I have always wondered how I can give back,” said Cheika. There is charity work, and I have done stuff with UNICEF, but this is something I can do in my own area of expertise; something I love, where I know I can make a difference. It’s a great chance to make people happy, and some of them haven’t got a lot to look forward to.
“Even the ‘get-togethers’ here, the camaraderie, right through from NRL players to guys playing Sydney Shield and young fellas in SG Ball I have really enjoyed being around because they are very passionate.. I know that passion alone can’t ‘get you there’, but it helps you to get up off the ground when you’ve been knocked down, that’s for sure,” Cheika added.
“People back in Lebanon don’t very often get a chance to see their teams on a world stage, so raising the flag and playing the anthem in a country where times are tough, and very difficult, may give them eighty minutes to shout behind their team and forget about the worries of their world.”
Understandably, preparations have been disrupted but Cheika is certain there is still time to build something special. “The minute you put a limit on yourself you create your own ceiling,” he said. “I’ve been in different environments in World Cups before so I understand how the format works, and there is a certain mindset you’ve got to bring to it, especially if you are an underdog.
“We shall be going there just looking to connect, and play some great (and different) footy, not always what you can see every week. Our opponents can do that very well so we shall just have to put in a few things that are unexpected. One thing I definitely know from World Cups is that you take it one game at a time.”
Cheika is also looking for a World Cup legacy to be felt back in the Middle East. “We want to give opportunities. The the more kids who can play sport across the globe, and this sport in particular, the better the world will be.
“Sport is a great leveller, especially when it brings diverse communities together. It makes you friends, gets you contacts, and being in a team environment makes you a better person.”
The Rugby League World Cup is taking place between the 23 October – 27 November