x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

McDonald starts the ball rolling for Falcons

Wayne McDonald, formerly of the Leeds Rhinos, inspires the fledgling UAE Falcons rugby league team to their first victory.

The UAE Falcons' Billy Asmar puts in a crunching tackle on Liban Espoir's  Hani Rifai during the Falcon's 34-10 win at The Sevens.
The UAE Falcons' Billy Asmar puts in a crunching tackle on Liban Espoir's Hani Rifai during the Falcon's 34-10 win at The Sevens.

DUBAI // The group attempting to establish rugby league in the UAE believe they delivered the perfect advertisement for the sport as the nation's new representative team claimed their maiden victory, at The Sevens on Monday night. The UAE Falcons, who are already targeting a place in the qualifying competition for the 2013 World Cup despite having been together for just a year, toppled Liban Espoir, of Lebanon, 34-10.

It was a fine result for a side who have only been training together seriously for the past four months, against a team picked from the best players from Lebanon's domestic competition. "This is really good for the sport," said Sol Mokdad, the director of development for Emirates Rugby League. "The boys loved it, and I think we are going to get bigger numbers at training sessions now." Among the approximately 100 supporters who turned out were a selection of the Arabian Gulf's rugby union side, who were cheering on a number of their teammates who had switched codes for the match.

Josh Sherrin, Rama Chand and Luke Sinclair were all members of the Gulf squad for the Asian Five Nations Division One campaign at the end of the union season, and they starred for the Falcons. If the atmosphere had been sanitised by the disciplinary action which followed a fight in the opening match, which was abandoned three nights earlier, it was hard to tell by the shuddering tackling. In particular, Wayne McDonald, who played for English Super League giants Leeds Rhinos in the past, before moving to Dubai, was a titan in defence. He also scored two tries, while Sinclair, Andy Quinn, Sassium Samerine and Ramon Fisher all crossed the whitewash for the home side.

The Falcons will travel to Beirut for the third match in their series on August 22, and their coach, Dougall Harvison, said: "I'm extremely happy and the scoreline reflects the commitment from the guys. It's a really good start to the year. We have some good individual players but the team came together and played as one, which is what we want." The visitors wilted in the last quarter as the effects of the UAE summer told. "The boys did quite well considering what they were up against; it was not the heat but the humidity," said the Espoir coach, Remond Safi.

"We had seven new guys who have only been playing for a year but there are some positives." pradley@thenational.ae