x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Demand soars to represent the UAE Falcons rugby league team

Players who struggle to qualify for the country's rugby union side are taking the opportunity to switch codes to get some game time.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Mar 28 : Rama Chand ( center with ball ) of UAE Falcons rugby team during the training session with other team members at the rugby field in Dubai Sports City in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Sports. Story by Paul
DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Mar 28 : Rama Chand ( center with ball ) of UAE Falcons rugby team during the training session with other team members at the rugby field in Dubai Sports City in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Sports. Story by Paul

DUBAI // Rugby league in the Emirates may want for a little in terms of staying power, but it is certainly not short on pulling power.

The UAE Falcons line up for their first match in nearly three years when they take on a newly formed side from Pakistan at Dubai Sports City tomorrow.

Seldom has an intermission between fixtures between quite so protracted in any sport. However, the hiatus has not hindered the quality of recruitment.

Wayne McDonald, the former Super League professional who captained the Falcons in 2009, has since moved on, but the reborn league team have otherwise strengthened up when it comes to their playing resources.

Given that the 13-man code is still so new in the country, and has no competitive infrastructure as yet, it could be assumed the representative team might be searching around for scraps when forming a side.

The reality is very different. The Falcons have picked up a variety of players who would walk in to the national rugby union team, were it not for eligibility restrictions and other issues.

Most players who aspire to represent the UAE union team have to be resident here for three years. The new league entity has no such limitations, however.

As such, Michael McFarlane, the strong-tackling Abu Dhabi centre who would be a contender for a place in the XVs side were he not so new to the country, has signed up for the league team.

Taif Al Delamie, the former Arabian Gulf captain, has also expressed a desire to play, as his bid to qualify for the UAE union team in the Asian Five Nations has foundered.

"There are a few complications going around [union] in terms of qualifying, with who can play and who can't," Rama Chand, the Falcons captain, said.

"With league it is really simple. The whole idea is just to get it going, get people involved and get the rugby league federation to realise the UAE has got potential."

Chand is grateful for the chance to play the 13-man code, having grown disillusioned with union. He is one of the most prolific try scorers in domestic competition, yet was overlooked for the national team.

"I hope the UAE do well and I hope they stay up in the top division, because that will be good for rugby here," Chand said.

"I just want to play. I'll play whatever sport is out there, because I know I don't have the A5N to aim for. If I'm not allowed to play in that, I'll just play league."

The match against Pakistan is the start of an attempt to establish the league code as part of the UAE sporting landscape again.

In lieu of a club competition, the league protagonists are planning an "Emirate of Origin" series, between Abu Dhabi and Dubai next month.

"We are in the process of giving Emirates rugby league another breath of life," said Sol Mokdad, the organiser of this weekend's match, who will play at prop for the Falcons.

pradley@thenational.ae