AAP Rugby

Lebanon nines dream turns to nightmare

By AAP Newswire

A Lebanese teenager has been reduced to tears after being denied a debut at the World Cup Nines because he was under the age restriction for the tournament.

Jordan Samrani, 17, was warming up for the Cedars' must-win clash against Wales on Saturday when the team was informed he was under 18.

The directive came 24 hours after Jacob Kiraz, another 17-year-old, helped Lebanon upset France in their opening pool match at Bankwest Stadium.

The NRL later stripped Lebanon of the two points they were awarded for beating the French.

Lebanon was seemingly bound for the semi-finals after stunning England 16-13 in their second pool match.

However, Rick Stone's men were left deflated after Samrani and Kiraz were told they couldn't take the field against the Welsh.

A shoulder injury to Ahmad Harajly left them with just 13 available players and Lebanon eventually fell 25-14 in a fiery encounter.

"We were really up for the first two games and then we just lacked a little bit of energy. Starts are really important in the nines game," Stone said.

"Maybe we lost a bit of confidence and a little bit of belief there, but that's the way the game goes."

Kiraz, who recently signed with North Queensland after playing SG Ball with the St George Dragons, debuted in a mid-year Test against Fiji.

The Cowboys promoted Kiraz on social media as the 17-year-old at the Nines.

It's understood NRL officials were also scrambling for the birth details of a third Lebanese 17-year-old, Johnny Lee Gabrael, who played in the final two games.

The Lebanese drama followed two Papua New Guinean female players also being denied the chance due to play were also denied the chance to play in the tournament on similar grounds.

The confusion stems from the NRL rules stopping players aged under 18 from playing, while international rules state those over 16 can with permission from a parent.

It's understood team officials believed the tournament manual said international rules were in place, before being warned on Thursday the NRL's guidelines were the standard.

Rugby League International Federation boss Nigel Wood insisted teams were aware of the rule and the onus was on them to field eligible players.

"The rules for this tournament were clear and unequivocal," Wood said.

"It's a shame, it's a blight really. You would prefer to spend all you time looking at the on-field action.

"It's regrettable and it's something everyone has to learn from. The tournament organisers and the nations have to pick players who are eligible to play."

The farcical scenes soured a fairytale run for a Lebanon side that boasted no current NRL experience because of a dispute with the current board.

Robbie Farah, Josh Mansour and Alex Tawl were missing, leaving the 32-year-old Robinson twins Travis and Reece as the only players with a NRL background.

Travis, who played nine games for Penrith between 2012-13, scored two tries against England before the Cedars held on for a memorable victory.