Rugby was developed from football, and while lagging behind the other game’s popularity in Malta, it is becoming more widely played and appreciated on the Islands today.
Of course, Rugby has its two branches – Rugby League and Rugby Union – formed from a split between the two rugby codes in 1895 in England. The intricacies of the two games may be subtle to the outsider, unlike the easy distinctions between what the US calls football and what the rest of the world does. But, for League guys, theirs is a sport for the iron men in Malta.
Malta’s national rugby league team is appropriately named – the Knights. The Knights, who defeated the England Lionhearts in their debut home fixture five years ago, are undefeated on home soil. A title that no other national team on the Islands can lay claim to.
The Knights won the 2010 European Bowl, that’s the fourth tier of rugby league in Europe. Accordingly, they will seek promotion up the ladder in 2011 to take on the likes of Germany in the European Shield.
If your sun bathing down at Ghajn Tuffieha Bay has been interrupted recently by these burly yet inspiring players, then it’s because they are in the final throes of preparing for their upcoming international against Lancashire.
Lancashire, where players are possibly more devout towards rugby league than the Maltese are towards religion, will be a mighty test for the Maltese.
The Maltese have called on six of their abundant overseas artillery. As each player books his flights – at his own cost – all will come together next Wednesday. The last touches to a squad that will further put this sport and mighty Malta on the map.
The Malta vice-captain Chris Parker, a prop with English club Gateshead Thunder, says the players in Malta are the backbone of the sport in Malta and among the Maltese worldwide. “Without guys on the island, we (Malta eligible players around the world in leagues including England, France and Australia) wouldn’t have the same urge to get over here every time. Rugby league brings us together, like brothers,” says the 28-year-old.
“The Maltese are so made for rugby league it’s not funny. They’re tough as nails. Daniel (Malta skipper from St Paul’s Bay) is what, 35, and tough as nails, leading from the front every time. And they have a good group of passionate youngsters. We Maltese in and outside of Malta really have something to be excited about.”
On Sunday 17th October, the Maltese rugby faithful as well as a number of curious and alert onlookers will venture to Hamrun’s Victor Tedesco Stadium, not for football – but for the Malta Knights’ next big test.
For more information, visit www.malteserugbyleague.com
Photo: courtesy of Matthew Scerri