Rugby league is not a sport normally associated with Lebanon, but this year’s World Cup in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea saw the Cedars qualify for a second time.
So how did an Arab country with no history or tradition of playing rugby’s 13-man code come to be represented at the sport’s showpiece occasion?
Back in the late 1990s, Australian-based players who had Lebanese heritage were able to establish the formation of the Lebanese Rugby League.
In 2000, the Lebanese Cedars where invited to take part in their first-ever Rugby League World Cup. They had a strong qualifying campaign beating Italy, USA and Morocco, but where only able to register a draw against the Cook Island, and lost to Wales and New Zealand.
They missed out on the tournament in 2008 and 2013, but reached this year’s after seeing off the South African Rhinos to win the Middle East/North Africa qualifiers.
Lebanon was then placed in a tough Pool A along with England, France, and co-hosts Australia.
Lebanon’s first game was against France on October 29th, but the Cedars were dealt a huge blow when one of their best players Chris Saab was concussed during the warm-up and had to be replaced by the inexperienced 19-year-old Adam Doueihi.
Even with that setback, Lebanon started the brighter of the two teams and scored first as Mitchell Moses went over, but the French were quick to reply.
Lebanon enjoyed most of the possession but it took until the 39th minute to break the deadlock. A tense start to the second half saw France level again after a mistake by the Lebanese team.
The game continued to see-saw, but with time running out Moses stepped up and scored again. Lebanon continued their late dominance and the game eventually ended 29-18.
This win put the Cedars in prime position to qualify to the quarter-finals of the 14-team competition.
Next up was England, and even though Lebanon lost the game they battled till the very end as their opponents run out 29-10 winners.
Their final pool game was against Australia, and despite the Kangaroos playing at home you were able to hear Lebanese chanting through the whole game.
It didn’t put off the co-hosts, however, as they notched up a 34-0 victory.
But Lebanon still qualified to the quarters, thanks to England, who beat France in their final game, which put the Cedars through.
Lebanon faced Tonga in the last eight in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Before the start of the tournament, Lebanon where the lowest-ranked side taking part, and the game looked like it would be a one-sided affair following Tonga’s impressive 28-22 win over New Zealand.
That wasn’t the case, however, as the whole 80 minutes proved that the underdog Cedars were worthy quarter-finalists.
Their robust performance during the first half kept them in the game, and they only trailed Tonga 22-16 at the break.
Lebanon looked to have levelled before the break through Doueihl, however, the video referee overturned a great piece of play due to a controversial obstruction.
The decision would then prove vital as Tonga increased their lead to eight points from a penalty kick in the 53rd minute.
This extraordinary game didn’t end there as Abbas Miski stepped and scored in the 69th minute and made it 24-22 after his conversion.
But those two extra points from the penalty kick proved to be the knife in the heart for the Lebanese team, as the game ended with Tonga winning by that two-point margin.
It just shows that even the smallest of nations can go to the biggest stage and perform, and Lebanon should learn from this extraordinary experience and come back stronger.