The second annual Middle East North Africa Under-16s Championship kicks off this weekend in Beirut, with hosts Lebanon taking on the Palestinian RL Under-16s at the impressive American University of Beirut sports centre.
Current champions Saudi Schools arrive next week to defend a crown they won in dramatic fashion last March, edging Lebanon on points difference after a tense 16-16 draw in the final match of the round-robin format.
The Saudis start as favourites, with the bulk of their squad drawn from the undefeated British International School in Jeddah.
“With a high number of returning players from last year's successful Camels side hopes are high that the squad can impress again in Lebanon,” said Saudi head coach Dave Kinkead. “The team has bonded well and trained hard over the last few months in preparation for the event. They are determined to retain the MENA crown."
Lebanon’s Junior Cedars are light on experience but drawn from a wider geographical pool of players than 2010. Rookie head coach Nader Mgheit is keen to see his untested charges in action.
“The team has come together well even though we are missing strike players compared to previous years’ squads. I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome and it will be interesting to see the newcomers playing together."
The Palestinian youngsters will be looking to make even more of an impact, having had a much better preparation following a general increase in activity and an encouraging support from the United Nations. Their spirit will be as strong as ever, and coach Ahmad Al Masri will be keen to get off to the best possible start on Sunday afternoon.
As an added incentive, four players of the top talents will be selected to spend a fortnight in England, two with Warrington’s academy and two at Harlequins.
MENA U16s CHAMPIONSHIP – AUB, BEIRUT
20 March – Lebanon U16s v Palestine RL U16s
31 March - Palestine RL U16s v Saudi Schools Select
2 April - Lebanon U16s v Saudi Schools Select
M. El Hassan, Y. El Hassan, O. Marhaba, K. Masri (c),Z. Zohbi (Emir Fakher El-Dine School, Tripoli), A. Kang (Broummana High), F. Abdo, G. Farah, A. Soultan G. Yazbeck (Ecoloe National Orthodox Balamand), A. Akl, C. Baroud, L. Chedrawi, D. Habbal, S. Saadeh (International School Hamra), H. Allouch, N. El Baba, M. Hamwi, R. Masri (Namouzja Public School), I. Raad (Tripoli City RLFC).
PALESTINE RUGBY LEAGUE U16s
S. Abou Shulleh, A. Halimeh, A. Laham, A. Mordiaa, A. Zaarora (Haifa School); M. Abou Sulleh H. Abou Shendi, M. Ezdahmad, M. Khalil, A. Minawi, H. Mordi’aa, I. Najami, A. Al-Rahman, S. Roza, I. Al-Saidi, G. Serirs (Al Jalil School); K. Abdullah, S. Souri, Y. Youssef Abou Shullieh (Mogamaa Alkanass)
SAUDI SCHOOLS SELECT
L. McRaith, H. Nasser, M. van Gruenen (American International School of Jeddah), T. Abdullah, F.Abdulwahab, S. Abualnasr, R. Al Moukhtar (c), S. Balaa, A. El Obeid, M. Ghobara, Z. Potgieter, Y. Safadi, B. Shahin, H. Sharbatly, H. Zazouk (c) (British International School of Jeddah), S. Saeed (Dar Al Fikr School), D. Herselman, W. Mufti, O. Rathore (Jeddah Prep and Grammar School)