LEBANON SET TO DO IT TOUGH
If Lebanon coach John Elias is to achieve his avowed aim of winning the rugbyleague.com European Cup, he will have to do it without his two stellar names, after the Cedars announced their 20-man squad for the competition.
Canterbury Bulldogs star and the leading points’ scorer in the history of the NRL, Hazem El Masri has decided to retire from the sport.
Elias said, “After genuinely considering joining the squad to finish his playing days off in Tripoli, the city of his birth, Hazem decided that after an exhausting NRL season, disappointing finals exit with the ‘Dogs and an emotional personal farewell to Rugby League in Sydney, that he could not make himself available to the Lebanon squad for the three weeks’ duration of the European Cup.”
Meanwhile, hooker Robbie Farah has been selected in the Australian squad for the Four Nations and his brother, Charlie, Anthony Farah (no relation), Nathan Dib and Jarrod Saffy are all injury withdrawals.
Lebanon begin their campaign on 24th October, when the Cedars host Italy in the Tripoli Olympic Stadium, before traveling to Glasgow to face Scotland on 1st November.
Elias has retained 11 of the players who formed part of the 2008 World Cup qualification squad which narrowly missed out on entry into the finals.
Chief among them are veteran captain Chris Salem, who played in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, when Lebanon made its debut on the international stage.
Salem has 14 caps - second behind only Charlie Nohra - and led the team brilliantly in Europe in 2007.
He will be ably supported by Newcastle Knights utility George Ndeira who debuted for Lebanon in the 2004 Mediterranean Cup and has since gone on to play for some of Australia’s biggest clubs, including Sydney Roosters and South Sydney, before moving onto Newcastle.
He won two man-of-the-match awards in the 2007 World Cup qualifiers and was the architect of a notable 50-26 win over Wales, arguably Lebanon’s best ever performance.
Former Balamand star Allen Soultan also retains his place after making his senior representative bow as a 17-year old in the 2004 Med Cup.
John Koborsi and Khaled Deeb will provide much of the muscle up front in a pack that will be marshaled by the Bulldogs’ skilful hooker Jamie Clarke, while Adnan Saleh poses a significant attacking threat in the backs.
Of the local players, LAU Immortals prop Robin Hachache is the most experienced, having played in every match for Lebanon since 2007, while Youssef El Helou and Ghassan Dandach are experienced tourists.
The squad is rounded off with eight players making their debut for the Cedars.
LEBANON 20-MAN SQUAD
Liam Ayoub - Bulldogs, SG Ball
Steven Azzi – Sydney Roosters
Danny Barakat - Bankstown City, Bundaberg Red Cup
Danny Chiha - Windsor, NSW Cup
Jamie Clarke – Canterbury Bulldogs
Ghassan Dandach - Jounieh RLFC, Bank of Beirut Championship
Khaled Deeb - Newtown Jets
Youssef El Helou - Jounieh RLFC, Bank of Beirut Championship
Ahmad Ellaz – Cronulla Sharks
Robin Hachache – LAU Immortals, Bank of Beirut Championship
Wael Harb - Wolves RLFC, Bank of Beirut Championship
Jad Hashem - LAU Immortals, Bank of Beirut Championship
John Koborsi- Wentworthville, Bundaberg Red Cup
Josh Mansour - South Sydney, Toyota Cup
George Ndaira - Newcastle Knights
Reece Robinson - North Sydney Bears, NSW Cup
Travis Robinson - Chester Hill
Adnan Saleh - Bankstown City- Bundaberg Red Cup
Chris Salem - Bankstown City- Bundaberg Red Cup
Allen Soultan - Wests Magpies