Lebanese have talent to star on the Disney stage

Dave Hadfield in Florida says a new rugby league nation can upset their hosts

It might run the risk of being tagged a Mickey Mouse competition - and we might as well get that one out of the way in the first paragraph - but the USA and Lebanon will be playing it for real at Walt Disney World later today. The winners of this bizarrely situated final elimination game in Florida will take the 16th and last place in next year's Lincoln Financial Group Rugby League World Cup in Britain, Ireland and France.

It might run the risk of being tagged a Mickey Mouse competition - and we might as well get that one out of the way in the first paragraph - but the USA and Lebanon will be playing it for real at Walt Disney World later today. The winners of this bizarrely situated final elimination game in Florida will take the 16th and last place in next year's Lincoln Financial Group Rugby League World Cup in Britain, Ireland and France.

The Yanks and the Cedars sound unlikely contenders to make up the numbers in the game's biggest ever tournament, but both are deadly serious about their prospects. St Helens' combative forward Vila Matautia has turned his back on his Western Samoan roots to use his grandmother's Hawaiian birthright to play for the States. "I want to be part of something where I could bring some experience and knowledge. The guys here are like sponges; they love the game so much and just want to soak up as much of it as they can," Matautia said.

Apart from him, his fellow British-based Super League players Joe Faimalo and Julian O'Neill, and captain and scrum-half, David Niu, who have experience in Australia, the Americans consist of relative novices from their modest domestic competition. "But there are players here who you could put into Super League," said Matautia. "There is a huge amount of talent, it just needs steering in the right direction. If the game ever catches on here, look out Britain and Australia."

One of the Americans' potential match-winners is their speedy centre from Arizona, Loren Broussard, who has scored a hat-trick in both of the wins, over Canada and Japan, that brought them to this stage and who has ambitions to earn a contract with a British club.

But both he and the hard heads from the British game will find Lebanon a vastly different proposition. That country's rugby league credentials might have been a well-kept secret, but the number of Lebanese players performing at various levels in Australia ensures that they have a highly competent side.

They got to Florida by beating Morocco and Italy, who were so confident of reaching the final that they were booked to travel here already and have come to Orlando regardless. The Lebanese star, Hazem El Masri, is a regular scorer for the Canterbury Bulldogs in the National Rugby League and treats his games for his motherland as though they are at least as important. "The first time I heard about something like this, I thought it was a bit of a joke, but these guys are really serious about what they're doing," he said. "We're here for business - to qualify for the World Cup. When we do that, we'll get the respect we deserve."

Steve Ghosn, once a first-grade coach with Western Suburbs in Sydney and now in charge of Lebanon, believes that respect is on its way. "They've no hope," he says of their hosts. "It's been a long flight here from the qualifying competition in the South of France, but our players' attitude has been great. If they play like they've trained, they'll be hard to beat."

The gridiron pitch at Disney's Wide World of Sports has been specially widened for a game that will be controlled by Britain's leading referee, Stuart Cummings, assisted by his director of referees, Greg McCallum, who will run the line and also be miked up to explain the rules to a largely bemused American audience. "Rules?" shouted one during a lead-up match this week. "There are no rules."

Or, as Matautia puts it: "They see us belting the crap out of each other without any helmets or padding and they think it's an absolutely crazy sport."

That could also be the key to the outcome. If Matautia and the trained destroyers from the full-time professional ranks can get to El Masri and the Lebanese midfield, America could go through, which would suit Lincoln, the American-based sponsors of the 2000 World Cup.

If not, the Lebanese have the ability to cause some mayhem. It will then resemble not a Disney cartoon but one from the stable of the opposition - Tom and Jerry.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Getty
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MIDDLE EAST CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...

BALTIC CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy London base...

IT Systems Administrator

£25000 - £35000 per annum + bonus + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: IT Sy...

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor