UAE rugby league looking to the future with Apollo Perelini
DUBAI // Apollo Perelini, the Super League great, is set to coach the first UAE age group representative side in rugby league.
The recruitment of the former St Helens loose-forward to lead the UAE Falcons Under 18 side in a fixture against Lebanon in September is quite a coup.
This time four years ago the dual-code international was Samoa's strength and conditioning coach at the World Cup in Australia.
Since then he has been developing young rugby players at his own academy at Repton School in Dubai, and now he is looking forward to the chance to help shape the development of the 13 man code.
"I have been asked to help sort out the Junior Falcons and league is a sport I know very well," Perelini said.
"My academy is purely skills, a rugby union and league fusion of the skills the boys need to be coached. I'm looking forward to it."
Rugby league is a new sport on these shores, with the first domestic competition having just been completed on Friday.
The maiden campaign of the Rugby League Cup threw up an enviable amount of teen talent, with league novices like Sirilo Laladidi, from Al Ain, Iziq Foa'i of Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Wasps' James Bywater all excelling.
Sol Mokdad, the chief executive of the Rugby League Commission, hopes the new junior side will help establish league as a viable option alongside the 15 man game.
"It will be a good chance for these young players to play representative football," Mokdad said of the fixture between the Junior Falcons and Lebanon.
"Some parents from the UK or Australia can be against rugby league, but in New Zealand people play one on a Saturday and the other on a Sunday.
"It is about breaking down that barrier with parents, showing them there is another option for their children and that it is an awesome sport.
"There is a clear pathway that kids can play league and still play rugby union."
Perelini insists he will be able to select a competitive Junior Falcons side in three months' time, saying "at least eight" of his academicians would be ready to play in the side already.
That core is likely to be complemented by a large contingent of players from Abu Dhabi.
The Harlequins victory in the final of the first domestic competition was heavily founded on some bright young talents, a number of whom qualify for the Falcons team.
"They are all real rugby enthusiasts," said Ben Bolger, the Quins captain, who also has experience of Super League in the UK having played as a professional for London Broncos.
"You have to drag them off the training field at the end as they're either kicking, kicking at goal or wrestling each other. They have been the life of our team."