Tripoli, north Lebanon-born, Hazem El Masri, the leading points scorer in the history of Australian rugby league, both in a career and in a season, was invited as a guest of Balmand University to launch last weekend’s Lebanon College Rugby League Championship.
The former Canterbury Bulldogs superstar, who played for the Cedars in the 2000 World Cup, watched UOB defeat Lebanese American University 22-10 in a repeat of last season’s CRL Division 1 Grand Final.
“I had a great tim,e alongside a big crowd watching the opening match of the year,” said 40-year-old El Masri. “I felt so that excited that I even wanted to put my boots back on! The standard of skill and speed of some of the players has improved so much since the last time I was here, over 13 years ago. I was so proud and impressed to be here, watching and meeting the players. And it’s good to see the sport has such a big fan base in Lebanon, especially with them preparing to play in the World Cup next year.”
El Masri, who last played for his homeland in the 2003 Mediterranean Cup, became one of three Lebanese Rugby League Federation ambassadors in July this year, alongside world title-winning boxer Billy ‘The Kid’ Dib and current Australia rugby union coach Michael Cheika.
He was presented with a university gift-pack from UOB Athletics Director Tony Dib whilst Balamand captain Darwich Darwich said: “It was an honour hosting the NRL Legend. Growing up it was a dream to meet him; he is an idol to our generation.”
Balamand is situated approximately four kilometers outside Tripoli, whose rugby league representation also consists of Tripoli RLFC, Al Mina RLFC, Lebanese International University and four rugby league-playing schools.
In the other opening round Division 1 match, Notre Dame University defeated American University of Beirut 28-16, whilst in the six-team CRL Division 2, AUB Junior Varsity beat LAU Junior Varsity 34-0. Lebanon’s club championship commences in November and the schools programme begins in January.