New UAE rugby league project gets a helping hand from some ex-professionals
Bolger brothers to play central role as UAE's rugby league season begins
DUBAI // One of the oddities of rugby league in the country is the calibre of player who occasionally turns up out of the blue as soon as word is out about a game of the 13-man code starting up.
It is a bit like having a pick-up game of football in Safa Park. You dump the jumpers down as goalposts, equidistant from two trees at the other end, then out from behind the restrooms saunter Ryan Giggs and John Terry, asking if they can join in.
When the UAE Falcons rugby league team played its first match in 2009, it just so happened that Wayne MacDonald, a former Super League player who represented Scotland previously, was knocking about in Dubai. He was happy to join the start-up team, and his impact was immediate.
There is probably still an indention on the Liban Espoire player he felled with a shoulder barge in the ferocious opening series of rugby league matches played here.
Now the inaugural Rugby League Cup (RLC) for domestic teams is about to start, and the same thing has happened. Two more players from Super League clubs, Ben and Sam Bolger, are ready and willing to help the latest push to cement a place on the country's sporting landscape.
The fact the two former London Broncos are both playing for the Abu Dhabi Harlequins marks the team from the capital out as the side to beat when the competition starts this evening.
"It is lucky for me that league is starting up as soon as I've come out here," said younger brother Sam, 21, who has taken a job as a personal trainer at Haddins Gym in Abu Dhabi.
"Ben came here six months before me and loves it out here. He and I are quite alike and I knew if he liked it, I'd probably like it, too.
"He said he was enjoying rugby union over here, that he was at a good club that was run well and that encouraged me to come out here."
The new four-team RLC is the first event of its type in the country. Until now, enthusiasts have had to be content with sporadic matches as a UAE collective, or a two-way "Emirate of Origin" series last year.
The competition, which will take place over four weekends, includes three existing union clubs, plus the first independent rugby league team, Mana Dubai.
The Harlequins, who currently vie with Jebel Ali Dragons for the status of the leading rugby club in the country, are happy for the chance to diversify.
"It is exciting and we are lucky to have someone of [Quins league head coach] Tony Scott's experience already at the club," said Chris Davies, the team's director of rugby.
"With his background, as well as having Ben and Sam in the team, it is great we have such expertise and we are all learning from these guys."