In March this year it will be ten years since Rugby League landed in Ghana.
Andy Gilvary, then working as a development officer at the RFL, embarked on a fact-finding mission to the African country in 2012, taking a bag of balls and cones into the unknown.
A decade on and Warrington-born Gilvary is national coach of the Leopards and he’s hoping that the country can mark this year’s anniversary with further steps on its Rugby League journey.
A former coach at South London Storm, London Broncos scholarship and Coogee Dolphins in Australia, Gilvary now works voluntarily to help the sport in Ghana.
So the recent link up with Salford Red Devils, which has already seen kit arrive in Africa, has been welcomed with open arms.
“They’re still very much in their infancy in terms of development, match officials and structuring a programme,” Gilvary said of the Rugby League systems in Ghana.
“There is already quite a big pool of players there, but they need a proper pathway for them.
“Salford will help us to bring that, and we’re hoping to have a number of staff come over from Ghana and spend a week at the club in a Super League environment.
“We can then send videos for their coaches to use and increase their knowledge.
“The aim here is long-term; they’re not going to get Super League players right now, but five, ten years down the track, then who knows.
“The foundations that Salford have helped us put in place already have been brilliant.”
Gilvary has travelled to Ghana four times and is quick to hail both the work of local development manager Jafaru Mustapha and London Skolars founder Hector McNeil and his wide Sara, who has been a key funder in work over the last ten years, without which the game there would not exist.
Gilvary also works closely alongside Sydney-born Middle East Africa regional director Remond Safi, who has played an important role in the recent progress of Lebanese Rugby League.
The pair both believe there is rich potential in Ghana and Africa as a whole, having seen first-hand the 2019 tournament that also included Cameroon, Morocco and hosts Nigeria and was broadcast live on television.
There are around 1,800 active players in Ghana and ten active clubs, who are also helping to build a blossoming women’s game.
National prop Eric Tettegah is currently playing in France, while another player has agreed to a spell in Turkey and Gilvary says the potential is there.
“Individually they are very good,” he explained.
“Collectively as a Rugby League team there’s work to do.
“They couldn’t go and play Salford’s reserve grade because they don’t have the Rugby League knowledge to do that yet.
“But there are some very good individual players who just need some time to develop.
“It’s probably where Jamaica was ten years ago, and look where they are now, in a World Cup.”
The link with Salford has provided a definite shot in the arm, with Red Devils directors Paul King and Paul Trainor the key figures behind the innovative partnership.
“Look at Manchester United,” Safi explained.
“Wherever you look around the world, they know about Manchester United.
“That’s how our Super League clubs need to start thinking, to open up our boundaries and borders and create commercial opportunities and player pathways.
“It helps the region develop and provides resources for them.
“We met with them on several occasions and came to an agreement on a partnership.
“This will impact the game massively in Ghana. It creates opportunity and resources for people in Africa.”
The last time Gilvary was in Africa he took four suitcases filled with kit and equipment, making the new link with Salford of tangible value.
This year domestic clubs will line up against each other in different Red Devils jerseys – hopefully with their own badges added to the shirts – after the first delivery arrived in Ghana.
“If you speak to people working in African countries, the first thing they will say is that they want balls and they want kit,” Gilvary added.
“Without that, they can’t play Rugby League.
“It’s probably difficult for people in England to grasp just what a difference one ball can make to them.
“Now this season they can go to a vault of playing kit and equipment every time they play.
“Salford have already sent kit out there and we want their badge to be in local communities.
“They will also produce bespoke kit for coaches with the Salford and Ghanaian badges on and we really want to embed that identity in the game there.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.