After chasing down an intruder at their Manchester hotel, the Lebanese players insist they won’t be intimidated by a World Cup quarter-final against Australia, as coach Michael Cheika prepares for take on the Cedars and the Pumas of Argentina on the same weekend.
The Cedars will meet the Kangaroos at Huddersfield on Friday night after beating Jamaica 74-12 in their last pool game – a win that secured Lebanon’s place at France 2025 – but Cheika also has commitments with the Pumas for their test rugby union against England 48 hours later.
After facing two burglaries at their team’s hotel last week, little is likely to worry the Lebanese players, who sued after a thief stole a laptop and other items from the team room of their hotel on the eve of the match against Reggae Warriors in Leigh.
“They thought they were on an episode of Law and Order,” said Cheika, who discovered laptops and other equipment stolen last week when he woke up early for a Zoom call. .
They say we are part time, I think the other thing we do part time is security work.
Eels half-back Mitchell Moses, Wests Tigers playmaker Adam Doueihi, Bulldogs winger Jacob Kiraz and Rabbitohs winger Josh Mansour are the only NRL stars in the Lebanese squad, most of players being selected in NSW and Queensland Cup competitions or lower tiers.
However, they gained confidence in their first performance against New Zealand, in which the Cedars led 18-12 in the second half before collapsing to a 34-12 loss after Doueihi was sent off.
“We were really lucky to have the opportunity to play against New Zealand and now Australia,” Cheika said.
“When you come to a World Cup you want to test yourself against the best and that’s definitely what it will be like.
“It makes perfect sense that nobody expects us to win. We understand that and we wouldn’t feel like a victim, but our job is to try to defy logic and try to put ourselves in a situation where we can apply some pressure and see what happens.
“Obviously because a lot of guys are from Australia, it’s a great game for them. It’s a real challenge that a lot of players are keen on. We understand that we’re the underdogs. It’s pretty clear.
Cheika will split his time between Leeds and London this week as the Lebanon and Argentina sides prepare for next weekend’s matches, but he has foreseen this scenario and given Matt King and Felipe Contepomi the means to play the leading roles.
Two shots from Doueihi and a try for Miski
The two teams had dinner together in Manchester last week and the players understand how Cheika plans to fulfill his coaching commitments for them.
“Everything here has to be nailed down first because we’re in a World Cup and that’s extremely important,” Cheika said.
“I did a lot of preparation and worked with the Argentinian coaches, they were here from Sunday to Wednesday last week, so I was able to spend a few days with them because we had days off.
“It’s obviously a huge game for Argentina too, and I don’t want to go through too much. England are a team that we will play in the [rugby union] World Cup next year.
“There’s been a lot of talk about ‘can you do that’, but for me it’s about trying to do it right – not just doing it, but doing it where I contribute to both teams. and an important contribution as a coach.
“For me to think that I would coach a game against the Kangaroos would never have crossed my mind, so now this is where I want to take the opportunity and learn from the experience of being in this scenario and going against a team like that.
Doueihi said the Cedars had achieved their goal of making the quarter-finals to secure a place at the next World Cup in France, but still had ambitions to go further in the tournament defeating the Kangaroos.
“We showed we could match it with world No. 1 at the moment, New Zealand, in our first match of the tournament and Mitch [Moses] had only joined us for a week, so combos were always forming,” Doueihi said.
“I feel like we built every game and the more training sessions and games we put on, the better we get.
“It’s do or die now. I feel like we’ve played a pretty similar brand in those first three games and we can’t afford to try and just throw the ball everywhere, we have to stay true to our structures.
“Kingy has given us some really good defensive and attacking structures, and we think if we can do that we can beat anybody on the day. We’re going to do that this week and find gaps in the Australian squad and try to exploit them.