Malta’s little known national rugby league team will face the Wales Dragonhearts this weekend, and players are jumping at the bit to represent the Maltese.
After back to back wins against Italy and Turkey over the last month, Malta’s highest-ranked national sporting team in history is out to make history again.
They will face the RLIF’s 14th ranked nation Wales away at the Brewery Field in Bridgend and will field a Maltese selection with players flying in from Malta, England and Australia.
With their Welsh opponents naming a raft of changes to their squad that beat Lithuania 58-0 a fortnight ago, the Maltese XIII might even head into the match as slight favourites if online pundits are on the mark following the inclusion of Wigan Warriors star Jarrod Sammut in the Malta line-up.
But what catches the eye is the players, of various levels, self-funding their respective trips.
Tyler Cassel, a former Scotland international that played in the Four Nations and plays in the NSW Premiership in Australia, has his own GoFundMe page that has raised almost €2000 towards him and his brother Kyle’s representative honours.
Earlier this month, one of Malta’s best ever rugby players Jarrod Sammut made headlines for paying his own way in a 35,000-kilometre return journey from the north of England to Sydney where Malta played its most recent international world ranking test matches.
St Julian’s based Mark Camilleri will skipper the Maltese side and says interest in the Wales clash has been as strong as ever.
“The squad has travelled to Bridgend with expectations raised after some strong performances in the Malta State of Origin Series over summer. The players understand the importance of representing the Knights and we have no doubt at all the Knights players will show courage, determination and a lot of heart in what is a new rivalry between these two nations,” said Camilleri.
“We’ve been training two to four times a week for the last few months and have stepped it up in the last month.”
Malta’s last big-time encounter in Europe was in 2015 when the Knights hosted seven-in-the-world ranked Ireland, and had Ireland until the final 15 minutes of play in front of a bumper crowd at the Melita Ground.
Birkirkara junior, Jean-Pierre Zarb, who has become a veteran of the national team at age 23, is included in the Maltese team that boasts a series of young faces, with officials sighting dual-code youngsters Shaun Chircop and Aidan Demicoli as ones to watch.
Chircop has speed and an accurate boot and is a versatile option in the backline while Demicoli will celebrate his 18th birthday on Saturday with the hope to continue his form of running hard and finding holes in the opposition defence.
Aside from nine domestic players, the Malta XIII is set to include seasoned internationals including England based quartet Karl Cassar, Andrew Muscat, Jake Lynch and dual-code international Kaine Dimech.
Wales Dragonhearts v Malta XIII
Saturday 23 November 2019
Brewery Field, Bridgend, Wales