Mansour relishing Lebanon chance
Josh Mansour is not embarrassed to admit he's been waving his hand in the air madly hoping Australia coach Mal Meninga will pick him for Saturday night's third round World Cup match against Lebanon in Sydney.
Mansour's father Fidel was born just north of the Lebanon capital Beirut and the Penrith flyer made his international debut with Lebanon in 2009, playing three Tests.
He chose to study the Lebanese language in high school and learned much of the history and culture of the Mediterranean county from his father, who migrated to Australia when he was 17 years old.
So it's no wonder he put up his hand first to Meninga this weekend.
"I asked him to make me captain!" Mansour joked from the Kangaroos team base at Manly beach on Tuesday.
His wish was granted – he was named on the wing, though not ousting Cameron Smith as skipper – meaning Mansour will play his seventh Test for Australia this Saturday at the Sydney Football Stadium.
James Maloney has been recalled to partner Cooper Cronk in the halves after leaving Canberra unexpectedly ahead of the France Test last weekend to attend to a personal family issue back in Sydney. Maloney was due to play his first match of the 2017 World Cup against the French but will now take on Lebanon halves Robbie Farah and Mitchell Moses instead.
In other changes, newly-married Ben Hunt joins the Kangaroos bench as the utility. He left camp last week to marry fiancée Bridget in Byron Bay. He returned to the Kangaroos fold on Monday and went straight into his first Test this campaign – and fourth overall for Australia – on Tuesday.
Valentine Holmes moves to fullback, with Billy Slater rested, while Cameron Munster moves from the halves into the centres and Tom Trbojevic comes in from the wing to the centres.
The bench props in the 52-6 win over France, Aaron Woods and David Klemmer, swap around with starters Jordan McLean and Reagan Campbell-Gillard now the interchanges for Lebanon. Felise Kaufusi is the new lock with Josh McGuire as 18th man. Boyd Cordner returns after a week's rest to the second row with four-try hero Wade Graham returning to the bench for his third Test in a row.
For Mansour, he knew it would not be easy to secure a Lebanon start with four different wingers already chosen for Australia previous two Tests: Dane Gagai, Holmes, Trbojevic and himself.
"Obviously I'll be very lucky to get to compete in this game. I'm very grateful to be back in the squad as I've had a long journey to get back here," Mansour said.
Everyone knows his tale of how he tore his anterior cruciate ligament last November while training with the Kangaroos on the Four Nations tour in the UK. The memories of that injury are still vivid and consequently haunt him now he's on national duty once again.
"There was a little bit (of bad memories), I'm not going to lie about that," Mansour said. "But I tried to push it all out and try to make a positive. That's all you can do. It was a freak accident on the day. I made the best of it."
So given everything he's been through, regaining the green and gold jumper is personally significant and satisfying.
"I hold it so close to my heart. I think in rugby league it's the best opportunity you can have. To play for your nation is obviously very special," he said.
"To get back in this squad when I thought my season was over this year, as I hadn't played much this year, I didn't think my chances were very high. So I'm very lucky and very privileged to be here. World Cups don't come up very often – once every four years – so very happy."
He admits he will find it hard not to mouth the words of Lebanon's national anthem.
"No doubt the camera will be on me. I might hum it a bit and hope the boys don't notice," Mansour said. "It's definitely mixed emotions. My choice is to play for my place of birth and I'm very proud that is Australia.
"Hopefully I can get my family on my side. And if I get a few jeers (from the crowd) then so be it."
He's expecting a flood of texts from Farah, Moses, Tim Mannah and the rest of the Cedars team.
"They haven't started yet but it will come without a doubt. It's part of their heritage too," Mansour said.
Australia: 1 Valentine Holmes 2 Dane Gagai 3 Tom Trbojevic 4 Cameron Munster 5 Josh Mansour 6 James Maloney 7 Cooper Cronk 8 Aaron Woods 9 Cameron Smith (c) 10 David Klemmer 11 Boyd Cordner 12 Matt Gillett 13 Felise Kaufusi. Interchange: 14 Ben Hunt 15 Jordan McLean 16 Reagan Campbell-Gillard 17 Wade Graham 18 Josh McGuire 19 Michael Morgan 20 Josh Dugan 21 Billy Slater.