Four local teams take to the pitch for the first day and chief executive is optimistic with enthusiastic response as Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Wasps impress, writes Paul Radley.
New rugby league format gets a warm reception in UAE
DUBAI // One day, maybe the novelty will wear off.
But for now rugby league is able to bask in the warm and fuzzy glow of another job well done – as well as a further step towards recognition – after their first day of domestic league fixtures on Friday.
The opening gambit of the UAE's Rugby League Cup (RLC) was a delight. Sausages on the barbecue. Kid Rock and Grandmaster Flash on the airways. Free stash for each of the four participating teams, including dapper, specially designed playing shirts.
Rugby league may be embryonic here, but those championing its cause clearly knows how to put on a show.
This was like any sevens festival day at any of the long-existing union clubs – only newer, fresher, and with a personal touch.
"This was a great day and the standard of some of the rugby league was awesome, too," said Sol Mokdad, the chief executive of the Rugby League Commission.
"The hardest part is getting people the chance to play. This has been such a good day I think people will want to get involved more and more.
"This is a good platform for us and it bodes well for the UAE Falcons," he said, referring to the national representative side. "My vision is for us to make the 2017 World Cup."
While the format may be new to most, some things remain entrenched. Abu Dhabi Harlequins, who did not lose any of the league matches they took the field for in the domestic union season that has just gone, immediately looked to the manner born in this code, too.
That was little surprise, given they have two players who were professionals at London Broncos in Super League not so long ago.
However, the capital club's 40-6 success over Mana Dubai in the second match of the RLC was not totally dependent on Sam and Ben Bolger, the former Broncos.
Happily, for both codes in this country, some of the Quins standouts were teenagers. Chief among them was Iziq Foa'i, the New Zealander whose hulking frame belies the fact that he is still only 17.
"It was a great effort by our youngsters today, who showed considerable maturity and that there are skills that are transferable across to the 13-man code," said Tony Scott, the Quins head coach.
Defeat to one of the country's most established union clubs was an eye-opener for Mana Dubai, as they made their bow as the country's first independent rugby league club.
However, Steve Emm, their coach, had cautioned against expecting too much from a side who are still learning the game.
"It is obvious the talent is there for rugby by the way the guys run with the ball and step," said Emm, a former full-back for the British Army rugby league team.
"If you try spinning the ball on the first tackle, which a lot of them do, thinking it is union, you are going to be defending all day. It's like spending 80 minutes doing a beep test.
"The team who plays the most sets of six will win the game, it is a simple as that."
Dubai Wasps win big over Al Ain Amblers but fitness is questioned
Being just three years of age, Dubai Wasps were a little late arriving in rugby union to be the first at anything. However, they are already pioneers in league, having won the first official club fixture in the 13-man code at Dubai Sports City on Saturday.
Michael Lancaster touched down five tries and James Bywater scored 20 points on his debut in the format as the Dubai side thrashed Al Ain Amblers 60-36.
“It was very good and we were especially happy with the first half,” said Alistair Field, the Wasps coach, referring to a 36-6 lead at the break.
“We were disappointed with the second half as we have been working on our fitness and that is what let us down. We will be better off for the experience, as there is only so much you can learn from training. This was throwing them in at the deep end and they will have learnt a lot from it.”
While the score was a clue to the fact both sides have much to do on the rudiments of this format, there was little shortage of attacking talent on show.
The excellence of Patrick Camaivuna, the fleet-footed Amblers back, suggests the UAE Falcons representative team will not be confined to players from Abu Dhabi and Dubai when they select their summer tour squad.
“Only one of our players has played league before so we knew it was going to be difficult for us, but it was all very positive,” said Keleto Dyer, the Amblers coach. “Everyone is hungry to play and learn. Because of the nature of the population in Al Ain we have a problem regenerating our team but we are trying to establish a family mix and this will help with that.”
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