GROUP Seven products Jono Dallas (Jamberoo) and Emanuel Sultana (Warilla-Lake South) have helped their Maltese national side reach the Emerging Nations World Championship Cup final, after defeating Hungary on Wednesday.
At Cabramatta’s New Era Stadium, the Maltese Knights ground out a hard fought win 20-10 – thanks to tries from Tyler Cassel, Kyal Greene, Adam Campbell and Josh Cregan, with Nathan Benson landing two kicks.
The victory pits the Knights, coached by Aaron McDonald [who coaches Berkeley in Illawarra District Rugby League], up against Niue, who defeated Greece 16-8 in their semi-final, in the decider on Saturday.
“The win against Hungary was as a good of a defensive effort as I’ve seen in a long time,” McDonald said.
“We probably defended for 60 minutes of the game, spending a lot of that time on our own line or coming our of our own end – having to kick from within our 30 metre line regularly.
“But to the boys credit, they were good enough to take the opportunities that presented themselves, with us scoring on four of the seven chances we had at their end.
“Hungary is one of those teams that just stays in the contest, hangs in there and nips at you all day but for our side, who hasn’t played hardly any footy together and play the way we did, is super impressive.”
Despite that fact that Niue, featuring Shellharbour’s Tamati Ulukita, have already beaten Malta (26-16) in the round games, McDonald is confident his team can get the job done at St Marys Leagues Stadium, from 3.55pm.
“All the boys will take a lot of confidence form the win in the semi-final [against Hungary] – their belief grew an awful lot in that match,” he said.
“While Niue got the better of us last time, we had a number of boys missing for that clash and I actually think our attitude was a lot better in the second half of that match.
“The key’s for us on Saturday will be controlling the ruck, making their big boys work early and maintaining our line speed.
“I know we have the points in us to win games but if we can control their big forwards early, we should be rewarded at the back end of both halves.”
McDonald, who first came on as Malta’s assistant coach in 2017 before taking over the top job earlier this year, said winning on Saturday would be massive for all the coaches, players and their families.
“For me, a lot of the boys are representing their parents and grandparents every time they pull on the Maltese jersey, so to come away with a win [on Saturday], would bring so much joy to everyone, which is what it’s all about,” he said.
“I’ve even had people from back in Malta contact me, which shows how important this tournament has been in growing the game of rugby league in the homeland.”
While McDonald is thrilled with his team's success, especially with how his South Coast players have played, he is more excited what this tournament – in it’s third instalment and first ever in the southern hemisphere, with the last being held 18 years ago – means to the growth of rugby league.
“For our sport to continue competing as a world sport, we need tournaments like this, that get teams from all over the globe involved,” he said.
“By exposing players and coaches to a standard of competition, it will help their development and hopefully give these nations a chance of qualifying for future World Cups.”