Lebanon’s performance at the 2017 World Cup has inspired USA rugby union international Ahmad Harajly to switch codes and play for the Cedars.
Harajly, who was born and raised in Michegan, has been named in a 16-man Lebanon squad for the World Cup Nines at Bankwest Stadium on October 18 and 19 after approaching Cedars officials about the opportunity to represent his heritage.
The Nines tournament will represent a changing of the guard for Lebanon, with Cedars coach Rick Stone focused on building a team for the 2021 World Cup.
Besides Harajly, their squad is comprised mostly of players from the Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup and NSW’s Canterbury Cup competitions, as well as SG Ball under 18s.
The squad also includes Reece Robinson, who played 120 NRL matches for the Broncos, Dragons, Raiders and Roosters as well as a two-year stint with NSW Waratahs, and his twin Travis.
Harajly plays centre for New England Free Jacks in North America’s Major League Rugby competition and has represented the USA in rugby at sevens and the 15-a-side traditional version.
The 25-year-old made his international debut at the 2015 Wellington Sevens in New Zealand after being a standout at an open trial for Olympic Games hopefuls and was fast-tracked into the USA national rugby program.
Harajly has captained the USA Falcons, and toured Uruguay in 2016 with the national team, while playing professionally for Ohio Aviators and New England Free Jacks.
However, Lebanon’s upset defeat of France at the 2017 World Cup to qualify for a quarter-final against Tonga and ensure a place at the 2021 tournament in England sparked Harajly’s interest in league.
"I was never familiar with rugby league but it caught my attention because Lebanon were playing, and they were in a pretty tough pool with England, Australia and France," Harajly told NRL.com.
"When they won that game against France I was shocked and I was pretty surprised to see a bunch of Lebanese playing the sport of rugby when I am one of the only Lebanese playing here in the States.
"I put in my head that if I can find a way I would love to have a crack with these other Lebanese guys and represent my heritage. Lebanon is my roots, that’s where both my parents were born, and I would like to show the world that us Lebanese can play rugby.:
Harajly, who is 190cm tall and weighs 102kg, grew up playing American football and was a quarterback until a friend suggested he join the local rugby union club.
The then 17-year-old quickly took to the game but Harajly feels he might be better suited to league.
"I didn’t even know what rugby was but I went to the first training and luckily I was the one who laid somebody out and that kind of got me motivated to play," he said.
"I played two years in high school, I watched a lot of film of union and I just felt it was the missing link in my life.
"A year after high school I got a chance to try out for the sevens and it went pretty well. There were 50-70 players and I was the one out of all of them who got the call to go into a high-performance camp, and from there I made the USA squad.
"Since the World Cup I have been watching a lot more rugby league. At first I wasn’t sure if it was the kind of rugby that I like to play but I have full confidence in myself and I feel like league might actually suit me best."
With recruitment managers from NRL and Super League clubs expected to be in attendance at the World Cup Nines, Harajly has an opportunity to impress but he said that wasn’t his motivation.
"The 2021 World Cup is my goal. I would love to get a crack over there and show people what we Lebanese are made of."
For ticket and travel packages for the Downer Rugby League World Cup 9s Sydney 2019, head to nrl.com/tickets.