Sunday, February 15, 2015, 00:01
Malta to face Belgium at Headingley next June
Malta tackle Greece at the Melita FC stadium during a 2014 European Championship match.
Malta and Belgium will face off in a summer international at Headingley Carnegie in a curtain-raiser to the round 19 First Utility Super League clash between English heavyweights Leeds Rhinos and Hull FC on June 21.
Hosting the mid-season international in England means Malta’s high-profile players, including Wakefield’s Jarrod Sammut, could be easily accessible for selection and coach Anthony Micallef says the match will be the perfect warm-up ahead of the European Championship C commitments later in the summer.
Leeds Rhinos CEO Gary Hetherington said the club is duly excited about bringing the RLEF-sanctioned international to his club.
“We are delighted to be hosting this international fixture and welcoming the Rugby League fans of Malta and Belgium to Headingley,” he said.
“I’m sure the Leeds and Hull fans will create a great atmosphere and make it an occasion to re-member for both teams.”
The Leeds Rhinos development is a reversal of the issues the MRL is battling in Malta where it plays a five-team national championship without a designated home ground, renting this year’s venue for their summer international from the athletics association.
Belgium’s newly-appointed head coach, former Junior Kiwis coach Tony Benson, says the international will be a test of their progress.
“We are working our way through an Elite programme to develop the athletes of Belgium Rugby League and we see this as a significant test of our progress,” he said.
“Our players are looking forward to experiencing the buzz of a big ground at Headingley so I hope the fans of Leeds Rhinos and Hull FC get behind the fixture and enjoy our game as much as we will cherish the experience.
“I’m sure the big event at such a historical Rugby League venue will bring out the best of us and be an event we’ll never forget.”
Upset to Greece
Malta captain Chris Parker said the team are looking to put things right this season after a poor 15-minute spell against Greece last June proved the difference between being crowned European C champions and their second place finish.
“We feel like we have a lot more to give than we showed,” Parker, a former Gateshead Thunder prop, said.
“The general feeling is we let ourselves down against Greece.
“You can’t give any side that much of a head start in a game and expect to win.”
Micallef hopes to field up to 11 domestic-based players against Belgium, including Jeremy Dela who moved to England this month to link up with Birmingham.
“He’s a strong boy with a big potential to learn and that will put him in a good position to be part of the squad with his move to England,” Micallef said.
“We’re again looking to use a large contingent of domestic players and he will hope to be one of them.
“The team wanted more matches, and this warm-up will be the third of five national team fixtures in the space of less than 18 months, an opportunity for the team to move up the international rankings if they can get the results on the board.
“We’re also very thankful for Belgium accepting the match.
“As a federation, we’ve app-roached bigger teams such as Italy, Scotland, Ireland and Lebanon for an international match over the last three years and none have accepted, so we take our hats off to Belgium for what should be a great occasion up at Headingley.”
The international will be Belgium’s first outing since their 52-10 loss to Spain in Valencia and Malta’s first test since a 34-8 away win over the Czech Republic last July.