Malta has youth on its side
By GREG WHITE
MALTA Knights head coach Joe Grima has been first cab off the rank naming a provisional team to face Japan in the international rugby league match at BCU International Stadium on January 25 before backing up in the Orara Valley Sevens tournament.
Five debutantes have been included in the squad of 17 to meet the Cherry Blossoms with Grima using the visit as a pathway to the 2012 Rugby League World Cup.
"There's a youthful exuberance and the beginning of a new era for Maltese Rugby League," he said.
"The new players will be relishing a chance to play against the Japanese."
The only downside has been finances preventing the selection of Maltese-based players.
"It's a shame as we really need to tap into the Maltese players," Grima said.
"It would have promoted rugby league in Malta and subsequently made our job of qualifying for the next World Cup much more attainable."
Many of the players are familiar faces from the NRL, particularly team captain Ben Sammut, the exciting former Cronulla Sharks fullback, along with hooker Steve Galea and Parramatta winger Simon Micallef.
Yet the new era is heralded by Wests Magpies centre Tyson Muscat who burst onto the scene in Malta's October loss to Lebanon.
"Tyson's debut was great as he was only called up one day before the match," the coach said.
Grima still believes Japan will pose an exciting threat to the Knights despite their rivals' recent elimination from World Cup qualification.
"The Japanese are very humble people and always give one hundred per cent.
"It's part of their makeup and culture."
Malta hope to exceed expectations in this year's Sevens tournament following their semi-final defeat at the hands of Lebanon in 2006.
"We've got speed and skill and will use this against the top teams like Lebanon and Fiji Bati," Grima predicted.