x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New rugby league tournament shows ambition of Emirates

Emirates Rugby League plan to harness the rapid expansion of the game here by hosting a four-team international competition at The Sevens.

DUBAI // Emirates Rugby League (ERL) plan to harness the rapid expansion of the game here by hosting a four-team international competition for the best sides in the region at The Sevens, Dubai, next summer. Morocco and Lebanon - two established league-playing countries - will be pitted against the emerging sides from the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the planned Middle East/North Africa Championship. "We are looking for that to become a regular fixture here in Dubai," said the ERL manager, Stephen Fairhall, who also foresees an annual "State of Origin" series against Lebanon during the summer months.

"Our international season will be our summer. We are trying to coordinate that with the different regions and the local seasons that they run." The organisers of the 13-man code in the Emirates have lofty ambitions, despite the lack of background of the sport on these shores. They aim to launch a domestic nine-a-side competition this autumn, with the best players from that feeding the national team for the Mena Competition.

"Our fierce competitor here is rugby union," added Fairhall, who hopes to drive forward their plans via a meeting with the European Rugby League Federation after the Super League Challenge Cup final in the UK in August. He went on: "We need to tiptoe around them to make sure we don't overlap. A lot of our players want to play league and they want to play union, and they want to play both at the same time."

Joshua Sherrin, who already plays for the Arabian Gulf 15s and sevens sides in union, has enjoyed his summer switch to league. He had no experience of the code before last year, having grown up in rugby-mad South Africa but said he would be happy to juggle both league and union during the winter. "If they are both established here, I would like to take part in both," he said. "I don't know which I enjoy more."

The nation's representative side, the UAE Falcons, claimed their maiden victory last month, when they beat Liban Espoir, the emerging Lebanon side, in the city. They are back in action tomorrow against the English club side Saddleworth Rangers, and travel to Beirut in August for the third match of their series of matches with the Lebanese side. pradley@thenational.ae