Few expected the type of match we experienced recently at Pembroke’s Melita Football Ground. An end to end game that had everything from scintillating attack to bruising defence.
Malta didn’t start the way they wanted to with a dropped ball on halfway late in their first set. However the British Mercians dropped the ball in their ensuing set and then gave Malta a piggyback penalty after a strip.
Dual international prop and man of the match Dragan Cerketa didn’t need to be asked twice when given room to move. A 20m run ended in the big man crashing over for a 4-pointer. Kick converted and the Maltese led 6-0.
Malta held the early ascendancy but the Mercians were far from giving up. Drifting to their left edge a chip kick was collected by Jese Kauleta who raced away for the Mercians, levelling the score at 6-6.
But the Brits were their own worst enemies, dropping early ball and allowing Malta to continue pushing forward. The Maltese shifted the ball right and appeared to have the Mercians beaten but some desperate cover defence prevented the try.
1 Mercian then appeared to be in the clear before 16 year old Australian-Maltese backrower Brad Littlefair made the covering tackle. Malta then received a penalty 10 metres out and took the easy two points.
However the Maltese let 1 Mercian back into the match after a mistake off the kickoff. Si Luvawaqa was then able to slice through, beating two defenders before carrying Littlefair over the line. With the conversion the Mercians took the lead 12-8 and that was the score at halftime.
The Mercians came bursting out of the blocks with Steven Naylor touching down and the conversion making it 18-8.
But you can’t write off the Maltese with captain/coach Chris Parker simply running straight hard to crash over and the conversion meant the score stood at 18-14. Then it was prop turned winger Dilon Urry who ran onto a nicely weighted pass to crash over in the left corner.
With the sideline conversion the Maltese hit the lead with the score at 20-18. After a Mercian mistake Parker scored his second and the conversion made it 26-18.
Darren Edmunds then had the chance to land the killer blow with 10 minutes remaining but couldn’t handle the final pass. Si Luvawaqa then scored his second, sprinting 80 metres and the conversion meant we had a two-point ball game. 26-24.
But after the Mercians were unable to keep possession when moving it down their right hand side the match was all over. The Maltese triumphant 26-24, claiming the 2013 Dove Men+Care Summer Trophy in a very tough match.
C Sgt Al Boyle said the Mercian team were a credit to the British Army and showed terrific determination to match it with a semi-national team.
“It was a great effort from the boys tonight. It’s still very early for us in terms of development and these guys really showed great pride, passion and determination to get as close as they did,” said C Sgt Boyle.
Maltese captain/caretaker-coach, Chris Parker said the win meant a lot to the players; “These guys played great tonight. They were dedicated and passionate for the cause. It was a tough match but they stood up when it mattered.”
Parker also said it was an honour to score for his country; “To just play for your country is an honour in itself but to score two tries is great… I don’t usually score so to do it in a match like this is pretty special.”
And debutante Brad Littlefair said it was unbelievable to play for his country; “I’m representing my family here and I am honoured to play for my country. It’s the most important match I’ve ever played in and extremely proud to play for Malta.”
Littlefair played all 80 minutes in his international debut and said he did so with an injured shoulder; “I injured my right shoulder at training but I really wanted to play. So I tackled all night with my left shoulder and just did my best.”
Monday night’s win was Malta’s fourth from their last five matches at home after defeating Denmark once and Norway twice. The MRL hopes to make an announcement in the coming weeks of a fixture against a team participating in this year’s Rugby League World Cup.
Malta XIII 26 (C.Parker 2, D.Cerketa, D.Urry tries; S.Keep 3 from 3, R.Attard 2 from 2 goals) defeated
1 MERCIAN RL [British Army] 24 (S.Luvawaqa, S.Naylor, J.Kauleta tries; S.Done 3 from 3, T.Lander 1 from 1 goals)
H-T: 1 MERCIAN RL 12-8
Players of the Match: Dragan Cerketa (Malta XIII) and Luke Riordan (1 MERCIAN RL)
Ref: Mr A.Micallef
At Melita FC, Pembroke.
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