RUGBY LEAGUE: Maroon raises Lebanon's colours

USA 8 Lebanon 62
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The Independent Online
THEY MIGHT not exactly be dancing in the streets of Beirut as a result, but Lebanon have become one of sport's less likely contenders by qualifying for next year's Lincoln Financial Group Rugby League World Cup. A team drawn from the large Lebanese community in Sydney knew far too much about the code for a brave but outclassed United States at Walt Disney World here.

The pattern was set early on when their second-rower, Charlie Nohra, flattened the American centre, Bob Balachandran, with a perfectly fair tackle that would have drawn oohs and aahs at the game's highest level. Nohra was later helped off after a tackle that saw St Helens' Vila Matautia sin-binned. The Lebanese captain, Darren Maroon, also took an enforced 10-minute rest from an often passionate match, while one of the USA's other imports from Britain's Super League, Joe Faimalo, was sent off for a high tackle on Chris Salem.

"It was like a Grand Final, with both teams desperate to go into the World Cup," said Maroon, who needed cortisone injections to play and was late on to the pitch because of that treatment. "But great credit to the Americans; they kept going to the end."

That they did, but the States' honest willingness was never going to be enough. It took just four minutes for the Lebanon to establish their superiority, Sami Chamoun's drive allowing their eventual man of the match, Paul Khoury, to dart through. Khoury's kick then fooled the full-back, Brian Warren, into playing by the gridiron rather than the rugby league markings to present Rabie Chehade with a try, with Mohamed Chahal, David Lambert and Travis Touma all following before half-time.

The Americans regrouped somewhat for the second half, but once Salford's Faimalo was dismissed it was always a question of whether they could keep the score down.

Khoury set up his near-namesake, loose forward Michael Coorey, for two tries, Hazem El Masri scored a try to add to his nine goals and Salem brought up the half-century, with Coorey's hat-trick and Khoury's second completing damage that would have been even more severe if the Lebanese had not ruined a number of other opportunities with erratic handling.

"We were disappointed with our ball control, but at the end of the day it was our defence that won it for us," their coach, Steve Ghosn, said. "We've got some good hitters out there."

A battered United States would vouch for that. "They are playing from the time they're knee-high and we've been together for a couple of weeks," said the American captain, Jeff Preston. He was one of their casualties, suffering an agonising knee injury that forced him off the field before their consolation try from Shayne Mains.

The States' other consolation is a place in next year's Emerging Nations World Cup, to run alongside the main tournament, and it did not take long for their natural can-do optimism to reassert itself.

"I'll say now that we'll win it," Preston said. "No doubt about it."

For the Lebanese, the prospect is of a World Cup group with Wales, New Zealand and the Cook Islands, at least two of whom should be distinctly worried about facing them.

"They haven't had much to cheer about in Beirut for a while," said Ghosn with some understatement. Their rugby league team may yet give them something.

Orlando police and the teams' managements are investigating a violent incident in the early hours of yesterday morning that left the American winger, Tony Fabri, in hospital with a serious facial injury. The fracas was at Disney's Pleasure Island complex, where players from both teams and from the Italian squad went after Lebanon's victory.

The World Cup operations director, Jason Harborow, said: "It's been a superb tournament and this is an isolated incident that only involved one or two people. It's sad that this should have happened and we have to get to the bottom of it because we don't want rugby league to get this sort of image in America."

Fabri, a former All American wrestling champion, was expected to be released from hospital after treatment. The World Cup organisers have the power to suspend individuals or teams from international competition if they are found to have disgraced themselves.

USA: Warren; Sheridan, Balachandran, Broussard, Fabri; Backhaus, Niu; Matautia, Howland, O'Neill, Mains, Faimalo, Preston. Substitutes used: Woodbridge, Edwards, Bowe, Hansbury.

Lebanon: Chahal; Chehade, Lambert, El Masri, H Saleh; El Chab, Khoury; Maroon, N Saleh, Chamoun, Salem, Nohra, Coorey. Substitutes used: Daher, Mansour, Raad, Touma.

Referee: S Cummings (England).