Malta to face Belgium at Headingley
Malta and Belgium will face off in a summer international at Headingley Carnegie in a curtain-raiser to the round 19 Super League clash between English heavyweights Leeds Rhinos and Hull FC on Sunday June 21.
Leeds officials anticipate a bumper crowd for one of their biggest home clashes of the season.
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 team's 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 Leeds.
"We are delighted to be hosting this international fixture and welcoming the rugby league fans of Malta and Belgium to Headingley. I'm sure the Leeds Rhinos and Hull FC fans will create a great atmosphere and make it an occasion to remember for both teams" commented Hetherington.
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 federation.
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 program to develop the athletes of Belgium Rugby League and we see this as a significant test of our progress"
"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"
Yves Kazadi, president of the 21-in-the-world ranked Belgian Rugby League Association, said a key feature of Benson's appointment was to teach about the culture of the game.
"Rugby league is about having the right strategy, structure, talent and culture. With Tony on board, we are learning more and more about that culture"
Maltese captain and former Gateshead Thunder prop Chris Parker said the Maltese 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. 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” said Parker.
Malta, launching its national squad setup this year, 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.
Malta coach Anthony Micallef commented, “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. 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 fixtures, and this match 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 very thankful for Belgium accepting the match. As a federation, we've approached bigger teams such as Italy, Scotland, Ireland and Lebanon for a match over the last three years and none have accepted, so we take our hat 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 against Spain in Valencia and Malta's first test since their 34-8 away defeat of the Czech Republic last July.