In today’s edition of ‘Starting XVII’, we focus on Lebanon.
The Cedars returned to the World Cup scene in 2017, after a 17-year hiatus from the competition, and showed up fairly well, beating France to reach the knockout stages, before narrowly being beaten by Tonga 24-22.
Those results should give them confidence going into next Autumn, and here’s the players we think will be looking to help them go one better…
Fullback – Anthony Layoun
Layoun came through the ranks at Parramatta and is currently lining up for the Mount Pritchard Mounties in the Ron Massey Cup competition. He’s versatile and is accustomed to playing anywhere across the backline but has featured at fullback in all four of his appearances for Lebanon. He’s quick and agile, and will benefit from playing alongside several top NRL stars.
Wingers – Josh Mansour and Abbas Miski
Mansour has represented both Lebanon and Australia in the past but is seemingly no longer in the Kangaroos’ picture. Because of that, the opportunity may arise for him to again represent the Cedars. A stocky, athletic winger, Mansour has bags of NRL experience, having played over 130 games for Penrith. Miski’s superb performances since the 2017 World Cup have seen him rewarded with an NRL contract. The 24-year-old made his debut for Manly Sea Eagles in May 2019 following several years in Australia’s lower grades and, alongside Mansour, makes up an impressive wing pair.
Centres – Bilal Maarbani and Jacob Kiraz
22-year-old Maarbani makes up half of an exciting, young centre duo. He first Cedars appearance came against England in the 2017 World Cup and he has continued to impress since. A stocky, direct runner, Maarbani was Lebanon’s top try-scorer at the recent World Cup 9s with three. Teenager Kiraz is the youngest in the squad but arguably one of their biggest threats. He made his international debut in the loss against Fiji last year but did show some nice touches, including an assist for Abbas Miski’s second try. The experienced Robinson brothers, former NRL stars Reece and Travis, could also line up in the centres should they make themselves available.
Halves – Adam Doueihi and Mitchell Moses
This might be a long shot but it would be a huge boost if the nation managed to get this NRL halves pairing on board. Both lined up for the nation at the 2017 tournament and have since gone on to bigger and better things at club level, becoming established NRL regulars. Doueihi is Wests Tigers’ designated utility back, regularly switching between fullback, centre and stand-off, while Moses is now the linchpin in Parramatta’s squad.
Props – Alex Twal and Kayne Kalache
Similarly to Doueihi and Moses in the backs, NRL prop Twal will lead from the front in the forwards. The 23-year-old has broken onto the scene in recent years, with his size and consistency seeing him establish himself as a regular starter for Wests Tigers. Kalache has been outstanding for Canterbury Bulldogs in the Canterbury Cup and, after featuring for Lebanon at the World Cup 9s, will be hoping to make his mark on the 13-aside international game.
Hooker – Michael Lichaa
Lichaa has plenty of critics after an inconsistent few seasons with Canterbury but will be still be a vital cog in the Cedars’ wheel. The 26-year-old signed for the Bulldogs from Cronulla in 2015, succeeding club legends Michael Ennis, but wasn’t able to adequately fill his shoes. He’s a solid-enough player, though, with a good defensive game and as a current free agent is desperate to prove he can perform at the top level.
Second Rowers – Ahmad Ellaz and James Elias
Ellaz is one of several survivors from the 2017 World Cup squad and will provide vital experience in what is otherwise a rather young side. He’s a no-nonsense player in both attack and defence and is capable of punching holes in the opposition line. Ex-Newcastle Knights back rower Elias is a much different type of back rower. Formerly a centre, his physical build means he can take on the workload of a forward, whilst also using his agility and pace to create opportunities for the players outside him.
Loose Forward – James Roumanos
Young back rower Roumanos is on the verge of an NRL debut, having broken into Canterbury’s top 30 squad this season. The 20-year-old is fairly slight in build but what he doesn’t have in size he makes up for in steely grit and determination. He’s not afraid to do the hard yards either down the middle or closer to the edges and has a real workhorse mentality.
Subs – Adam Rizk, Elie El-Zakhem , Jalal Bazzaz, Nick Kassis
Canterbury Bulldog Rizk has been impressing for the club’s Canterbury Cup side this season and featured for Lebanon at the World Cup 9s. The 21-year-old is a talented halfback who can also play hooker, and will inject some creativity off the bench. Physical, hard-running forwards El-Zakhem and fellow Bazzaz provide some youthful flair off the bench, while Cedars veteran Kassis provides some versatility with his ability to play across the pack. It’s generally a rather youthful bench but there are several more experienced players who provide solid alternative options, including Elias Sukkar and Mitchell Mamary.