Organisers of the UAE's new Rugby League Cup know they have a long way to go but are still aiming for a national team to contend in the 2017 World Cup for the 13-man code, writes Paul Radley.
UAE players share Rugby League World Cup vision
DUBAI // UAE Rugby League's bold ambition to qualify for the 2017 World Cup has been backed by the leading players here, with one ex-Super League professional saying he is committed to help make it happen.
Sol Mokdad, the chief executive of the Rugby League Commission, is well aware the code faces a variety of obstacles to become an established part of the UAE sporting landscape.
However, the challenges have not stopped him aiming big.
"My vision is for us to make the 2017 World Cup," Mokdad said after the opening round of Rugby League Cup fixtures, at Dubai Sports City on Friday.
While it may seem an audacious aspiration for an embryonic organisation, the qualification framework in league is shallower than in many other international sports, which makes the dream possible.
And the first intake of domestic league players are highly enthusiastic about the idea. Ben Bolger, a 23-year-old loose forward, ended his professional career with London Broncos last year to take up a job in the finance sector in Abu Dhabi.
He was the outstanding player in Abu Dhabi Harlequins' win on the opening day of the RLC, and he wants to assist in shaping the future of the 13-a-side game.
"I have been blown away by the ambition for league here," said Bolger, whose younger brother, Sam, also excelled on debut for Quins. "It is something I want to part of. If we are going to get rugby league onto its feet here we need to have something to aim for. There is no reason we shouldn't be aiming for something like that.
"I was impressed with some of the rugby we saw on Friday. It is exciting and fresh for the boys who prefer rugby league."
Michael Lancaster scored five tries in his first game of rugby league for Dubai Wasps against Al Ain Amblers.
Now 24, the Dubai-raised personal trainer would also be at peak age when the World Cup arrives in four years' time.
"I love training for rugby, specifically, and to have that sort of goal to aim for would be brilliant," Lancaster said.
"I had done some training with some semi-professional sides in Australia before but [Friday] was my first game and it was really good.
"There is a nice atmosphere to the set-up."
UAE FALCONS TO TAKE FLIGHT IN 2017
Much will change in the next four years, but on the evidence of Friday’s opening day there are a variety of players on whom the UAE Falcons could base their ambitious 2017 World Cup qualifying bid:
Iziq Foa’i - Abu Dhabi Harlequins
Would be 21 in 2017. He would be a certain starter for the national team if a professional contract abroad in rugby union does not prohibit him.
Sam and Ben Bolger - Abu Dhabi Harlequins
Ex-professionals who are head and shoulders above the rest at present. The brothers would be shoo-ins if they are still here in four years’ time.
Patrick Camaivuna - Al Ain Amblers
Did not have much ball to work with as his side struggled against Dubai Wasps on Friday. With extraordinary running skills like his, though, it hardly mattered.
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