International: COOK ISLANDS 28 LEBANON 24 at The Crest, Sydney

By STEVE MASCORD
 
IS there any way that Scott Sattler’s legendary tackle on a flying Todd Byrne in the 2003 grand final could have been more heroic? How about if Sattler had no idea of the score at the time?
That’s the situation the Cook Islands Sam Brunton and Chris Taripo found themselves in during an epic opening to the international season before a small but vocal crowd at Bass Hill in south-western Sydney a couple of Sundays back.
The David Fairleigh-led Cooks held a 10-6 advantage over Lebanon at halftime and then appeared to run away with the contest in the second half, with Wigan centre Anthony Gelling starring.
Fairleigh’s side, drawn from all over the world, knew they led by a lot. But with no ground announcer, scoreboard or even match program, they weren’t sure how much. In fact, it wwas 28-6 with 12 minutes to go
Then David Bayssari’s Cedars scored a try. And Another. And Another.
With less than a minute left on the only clock in the ground – on the desk of the time-keeper seated near halfway – Lebanon winger Cliff Nye broke into the clear.He swerved and sprinted past several defenders and to within 10 metres of an epic try.
Brunton and Talipo dove at his ankles. “It was Sammy Brunton who got him,” Fairleigh said later.
Brunton protested: “It wasn’t me. I think he just tripped over himself … or it was Chris.”
But what made their efforts even more astounding was that neither of them even knew the game was on the line. “We didn’t know the score,” said Gelling, who played 11 matches for Wigan this year.
“Apparently if they had scored and kicked the goal, they would have won. But we didn’t know that.”
Those who say today’s players don’t have any national pride and switch sides as mercenaries should have been at The Crest. Traditonal Cook Islands drummers played in the stands, a fearsome war dance was performed before and after by the victors and each country had merchandise stands which would put NRL clubs to shame.
The line-up for the sausage sandwiches – pay at the canteen first and they give you the bread – could have been faster and most fans would agree that a knowledge of the current score ehances the experience of watching live sport.
But passion?
There by the truckload. Just look at the Sydney Roosters pair of Brunton and Taripo who showed superhuman desperation without even knowing it had the capacity to decide the contest.
The Lebanese administration has undergone an overhaul and is very much based in Lebanon – rather than Sydney – these days. Chief operating officer Remond Safi flew out from Beirut and potential Cedars representatives are being identified at an increasingly young age.
“He’s been out for a month,” said Bayssari. “The boys get to know who he is, who’s running the show for us.”
Fairleigh’s original side included Canberra utility Reece Robinson and Newcastle’s Zane Tevevano, among other NRL stars who pulled out through injury. He expects to have them all available for the World Cup. “We’ve got quite a few to come in,” said Fairleigh.
This Sunday, rugby league breaks now ground with Thailand taking the Philippines and Bangkok Police Stadium, with Gavin and Casey Badger creating their own first as a husband-and-wife international refereeing team.
On Monday, the Phippines side will travel to Manila. NRL stars Andrew Everingham, Matt Srama and Kevin Gordon will visit an orphanage on Wednesday before hosting coaching clinics on Thursday and Friday.
The following Saturday, a Queensland Indigenous side likely to include former Brisbane hooker Ian Lacey will take on the Hawaii All Stars, guest-coached by ex-Cowboy Cory Paterson, at Kaiser Stadium in Honolulu.
The game will feature a cultural exchange with Aboriginal dancers performing with their Hawaiian counterparts before kick-off.
Injury and suspension means Luke Burgess is now likely to be the only NRL player involved in the triangular series that pits England against Wales and France this month and next. But brother George is also padding up for England Knights in the European Cup involving Scotland and Ireland.
And on November 10, plans to play the World Club Challenge in Las Vegas will be put to the test when the Foundation Cup – involving Coogee Dolphins – is played in the gambling mecca.
The tournament also involves British Columbia Bulldogs, California Condors, Utah Avalanche and Las Vegas Warriors – all comparitively new converts to our game.
But, knowing the Americans, a ground announcer and scoreboard are assured.
 

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