MALTA Knights have named an Emerging Nations-dominated train-on squad for their two upcoming International tests in Sydney, Australia.
Ahead of the opening October 12 clash with Italy at Kirkham Park, Test coach Aaron McDonald has confirmed a squad brimming with halves talent, including Wigan Warriors’ Jarrod Sammut, Jamberoo's Jono Dallas, Wests Devils Justin Rodrigues and Emmanuel Sultana from Warilla, who could well be playing alongside each other as they did when Malta last took to the field, winning last year’s Emerging Nations World Championship Final.
The stunning form of Hills Bulls halfback Joel Bradford in this year’s NSWRL Ron Massey Cup competition has earned the 21 year old a test re-call, his most recent International appearance was in 2017, coincidently against the Italians in a 24-24 draw at Marconi Stadium.
"The train-on squad has the right combination of youth and experience, as well as an overall balance across the positions for a Test Match campaign," McDonald said.
"We've got a great array of eligible halves playing in the Illawarra and Sydney finals series at the moment, all who can slot in anywhere in the backline"
“The decision to retain all four halves from last year’s World Championship campaign, as well as adding Bradford comes down to their versatility and the ability to play a number of positions." McDonald added.
The biggest revelation is the selection of local domestic player, 25 year old Tyson Freeman.
MRL Pathways Director Peter Cassar insists the back-rower deserved recognition for an outstanding showing in last year’s European Championship C match against Ukraine on Maltese soil.
"Tyson's journey is a great story. He’s a player who developed his Rugby League growing up in Malta, playing against grown men as a 15 year old kid. He demonstrated to us during last year's home World Cup qualifying match at Marsa Sports Complex that he can hold his own in the middle," Cassar said.
Since relocating from Malta to Queensland with his partner earlier in the year, Tyson had a breakout year for the Eagleby Giants and McDonald agreed it was difficult to leave him out.
The obvious omitted players are inspirational captain Jake Attard, who has been ruled out through injury, and the Stone brothers in Ben (Wests Newcastle) and Sam (Gold Coast Titans) who are both unavailable.
General Manager David Axisa said "Jake was clearly upset, but called it early. Att’s has been enormous for the Red and White in recent years and if I’m being totally honest, Malta’s rise to its highest ever World Ranking is owed a lot to his leadership and professionalism, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be this time around”
Jake’s presence isn’t lost on us however as he moves into an assistant coaching role with the U18’s," Axisa revealed.
As the MRL Junior Heritage Pathways will also look to name their U16’s and U18’s squads to face Italian Heritage and Africa United in curtain-raisers, the development program sees another one of its graduates elevated into the Test Squad. 18 year old Josh Gatt.
Gatt first represented his Maltese heritage three years ago as a 15 year old and has since been on the radar, enjoying a steady rise in the game.
Malta's other Test Match will be at New Era Stadium on October 26, against a star-studded Turkey squad which boasts Canberra Raiders Aiden Sezer and Emre Guler.
28 MAN TRAIN-ON SQUAD LIST
Kyle Cassell, Tyler Cassell (Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles), Blake Phillips (Collegians), Tyson Freeman (Eagleby Giants), Jye Ellul (East Campbelltown Eagles), Aaron Grech (Guildford Owls), Joel Bradford, Josh Gatt (Hills Bulls), Jono Dallas (Jamberoo Superoos), Jake Scott (Lakes United Seagulls), Peter Cronin (Maitland Pickers), Nathan Falzon (Nowra-Bomaderry Jets), Jesse Cronin (Parramatta Eels), Matthew Borg (Parramatta Two Blues), Nathan Benson (Souths Sharks Mackay), Zach Borg (St Clair Comets), Josh Cregan (St Joseph’s Kirrawee), Joel Borg (St Marys Saints), Jake Lennox (St Patricks Blacktown), Adam Campbell (Thirlmere Roosters), Aidan Glanville, Kyal Greene, Cameron Mazelli, Tyson Muscat (Unattached), Emmanuel Sultana (Warilla Gorillas), Josh Caruana (Wauchope Blues), Justin Rodrigues (Wests Illawarra), Jarrod Sammut (Wigan Warriors).
IMAGE: Malta’s Tyler Cassell and Aaron Grech at last years Emerging Nations World Championship launch.