London Broncos help launch Malta's Euro C internationals
29 May 2014 07:58am
By Steven Devonshire
Jonathan Wallace, Sam Keep, Clifford Debattista, Anthony Micallef, Joey Grima
Malta Rugby League national team coach Anthony Micallef launched his team's upcoming summer campaign today together with members of the national team and First Utility Super League club London Broncos.
London Broncos back-rower Jonathan Wallace joined recently appointed Broncos head coach and former Malta coach Joey Grima along with Malta international Sam Keep and Malta vice-captain Clifford Debattista who both flew over from Malta for the announcement.
Malta will enter European Championship C this year and their commitments kick off next month when they host Greece at home, three weeks later the 22 in the world ranked Maltese travel away to Havlí?k?v Brod for their away clash against the Czech Republic.
Malta coach Micallef announced a 40-man squad which includes three Super League players, one Queensland Cup player and 25 players from the Maltese Championship that kicked off in earnest last week between Sliema and reigning premiers Malta Origin, the reigning premiers adopting the Panthers moniker after receiving a kit donation from the NRL club over the off-season.
Micallef downplayed talk of labelling Malta as tournament hopefuls despite announcing three professional players in his squad.
Micallef commented, "It's always nice to recognise these players that are doing some amazing things on the highest stage, but we have to look at the bigger picture. I would love to have all of them available, but whether that happens even just in one game is yet to be seen."
"I've named a squad that recognises a large group of the best of what we have available in our respective leagues, both in Malta and abroad, and it will be down to the 17 that take the field to get the job done, not one or two individual players."
"There's no doubt that a number of players can and still may force their way into the final squad over the next month of the Maltese Championship. Things will hot up and it will get very competitive but it's a good problem to have."
The Broncos Jonathan Wallace debuted for Malta 18 months ago against Denmark when the Maltese recorded a 74-12 win in Copenhagen and Super League's new kid on the block said it was an honour he is looking forward to replicating.
"It was great to make my debut almost two years ago. A lot has changed in the time since, and obviously now I will have Super League commitments to contend with, where I am hopefully selected in the Super League team, but I also hope to be in the mix for the Maltese team," said Wallace.
Sam Keep, who has made three national team appearances and plays with Malta Origin RL, said the Maltese Championship was coming on and it was great that Rugby League had spread to the Mediterranean island in recent years.
"I grew up in Wigan and played juniors there but with my grandparents being Maltese, I moved over there a few years ago, have settled there and recently welcomed our first child into the family, I'm really grateful that Rugby League kicked off there some five years ago and we can play the greatest game, even away from the heartlands."
Joey Grima is one of the men who helped kick off Rugby League in Malta with its first game back in 2005, and the recently appointed Broncos head coach says the dream was always that the game would be played on the islands.
"We set out on the cause from a small meeting room in Western Sydney back in 2004, and it's great that the game is now thriving in Malta, BARLA and other English teams regularly heading over there for training camps and the fruits of Maltese Rugby League are being shown on the bigger stage too with five players across the NRL and Super League, and many more in the lower grades."
Malta host Greece at Melita FC on June 28 and are away to Czech Republic on July 12.
Head coach Joe Grima has made just one change to last week's 19-man squad with Atelea Vea coming back from suspension to replace the injured Alex Foster for the game against Hull KR on Saturday at The Hive (ko 3pm).
Rising star Joe Keyes (18) is enjoying his time in the first team having made the step up from the Academy to the First Utility Super League but admits he found it tough to adjust to the pace of the game.