Cleary planting Cedars future
For Tim Mannah and other members of the Lebanese squad who came together this week for the first time ahead of the Rugby League World Cup, the tournament is about more than just how the Cedars perform on the field under the coaching of Ivan Cleary.
"I think the best thing we can probably get out of this tournament and the whole campaign is to really reiterate what the Lebanese people and culture stands for," Mannah said.
It was a message repeated to the gathering of players at Canterbury Leagues Club on Wednesday night, which was attended by Mannah, Robbie Farah and Mitchell Moses, as Cleary and Lebanese Rugby League Federation officials outlined their vision and values to the team.
"Over the years, a small minority has really impacted on the perception of the large majority of Lebanese people so we have got a really good chance and a great responsibility to show the rest of the country what Lebanese people are really like, and the positive contribution they make to the community and how genuine and loving they really are," Mannah said.
As Parramatta captain, Mannah knows first hand how strong the support for rugby league is among the Lebanese community, particularly among clubs such as South Sydney, Canterbury, St George Illawarra, Wests Tigers and the Eels.
With matches in Sydney against England on November 4 and Australia on November 11, he was expecting big crowds and said the Cedars didn't want to let down fans who had been waiting 17 years since the country’s only previous World Cup appearance.
"It is no secret how many Lebanese people support the game, the fan bases of a lot of Sydney clubs have a lot of Lebanese, so there is going to a lot of excitement in the air and there is a bit of a buzz about it already," the 29-year-old prop said.
"But it is not only the supporter bases of a lot of Sydney clubs who are Lebanese, a lot of the corporate sponsors of these clubs are also Lebanese.
"They not only support NRL clubs but they are also out in the community helping grass roots and charities so it is going to be a great opportunity not only to find out how well Lebanon go on the field but also to show the corporate side of things and how well the Lebanese people are really contributing to the rest of society and the community."
Under Cleary, the Cedars are creating a professional environment similar to what the NRL stars are used to at their clubs and he wants them to mentor the younger players in the squad – most of whom play in the NSW Cup.
Besides Mannah, Farah, who will play his 250th NRL match this weekend for South Sydney, and Moses, the Wests Tigers five-eighth, the Cedars are hoping that Penrith winger Josh Mansour and Canterbury hooker Michael Lichaa will play for them in the World Cup.
With many more players from Lebanese backgrounds in the junior ranks, Cleary believes a successful World Cup will encourage them to want to represent their heritage and ensure a stronger team in coming years.
"I think having Ivan as coach says a lot about how seriously the Lebanese team is taking this World Cup," Mannah said.
"Having him on board is going to be a very attractive incentive to a lot of the players to get involved.
"He has done a really good job in terms of rallying the NRL boys and a lot of us have committed and are on board so now it is a matter of getting through the NRL season and preparing for the World Cup when it comes."
Before then, Cleary and some of the big-name NRL stars are considering a trip to Lebanon to promote the World Cup campaign and there is also thought being given to including a player in their squad from the domestic competition, which begun in 2002.
"My parents came from Lebanon but I have never been there. I'd love to go back and there has been talks with Robbie and Ivan about potentially going there before the World Cup or after the World Cup, which excites me," Mannah said.
"The game over there has grown a lot and we are thinking of going over there and watching some games, or even having a local player in our team would be great for rugby league in Lebanon."
The Cedars begin their World Cup campaign against France in Canberra on October 29 before taking on England and Australia at Sydney Football Stadium on November 4 and 11.