Lebanon's preparations for the rugby league European Nations Cup have dealt a blow with the news that Canterbury Bulldogs star and world record points' scorer, Hazem El Masri has decided to retire and will not be part of the Cedars squad for the upcoming tournament.
|Hazem El Masri's retirement come at a poor time for the Cedars [GALLO/GETTY]
El Masri's decision comes after Lebanon had lost another of their stars in Robbie Farah after the Wests Tigers hooker was named in the Australian squad for the upcoming Four Nations tournament.
"After genuinely considering joining the squad to finish his playing days off in Tripoli, the city of his birth, Hazem decided that after an exhausting NRL season, disappointing finals exit with the 'Dogs and an emotional personal farewell to Rugby League in Sydney, that he could not make himself available to the Lebanon squad for the three weeks' duration of the European Cup," coach John Elias said while naming his final 20 man squad.
The list of absentees also includes Farah's brother Charlie, Anthony Farah (no relation), Nathan Dib and Jarrod Saffy all of whom are injury withdrawals.
Lebanon begin their campaign on 24th October, when the Cedars host Italy in the Tripoli Olympic Stadium, before traveling to Glasgow to face Scotland on 1st November.
Experienced line up
Elias has retained 11 of the players who formed part of the 2008 World Cup qualification squad which narrowly missed out on entry into the finals.
Chief among them are veteran captain Chris Salem, who played in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, when Lebanon made its debut on the international stage.
Salem has 14 caps - second behind only Charlie Nohra - and led the team brilliantly in Europe in 2007.
He will be ably supported by Newcastle Knights utility George Ndeira who debuted for Lebanon in the 2004 Mediterranean Cup and has since gone on to play for some of Australia's biggest clubs, including Sydney Roosters and South Sydney, before moving onto Newcastle.
He won two man-of-the-match awards in the 2007 World Cup qualifiers and was the architect of a notable 50-26 win over Wales, arguably Lebanon's best ever performance.
Former Balamand star Allen Soultan also retains his place after making his senior representative bow as a 17-year old in the 2004 Med Cup.
John Koborsi and Khaled Deeb will provide much of the muscle up front in a pack that will be marshaled by the Bulldogs' skilful hooker Jamie Clarke, while Adnan Saleh poses a significant attacking threat in the backs.
Of the local players, LAU Immortals prop Robin Hachache is the most experienced, having played in every match for Lebanon since 2007, while Youssef El Helou and Ghassan Dandach are experienced tourists.
The squad is rounded off with eight players making their debut for the Cedars.
Liam Ayoub - Bulldogs, SG Ball, Steven Azzi - Sydney Roosters, Danny Barakat - Bankstown City, Bundaberg Red Cup, Danny Chiha - Windsor, NSW Cup, Jamie Clarke - Canterbury Bulldogs, Ghassan Dandach - Jounieh RLFC, Bank of Beirut Championship, Khaled Deeb - Newtown Jets, Youssef El Helou - Jounieh RLFC, Bank of Beirut Championship, Ahmad Ellaz - Cronulla Sharks, Robin Hachache - LAU Immortals, Bank of Beirut Championship, Wael Harb - Wolves RLFC, Bank of Beirut Championship, Jad Hashem - LAU Immortals, Bank of Beirut Championship, John Koborsi- Wentworthville, Bundaberg Red Cup, Josh Mansour - South Sydney, Toyota Cup, George Ndaira - Newcastle Knights, Reece Robinson - North Sydney Bears, NSW Cup, Travis Robinson - Chester Hill, Adnan Saleh - Bankstown City- Bundaberg Red Cup, Chris Salem - Bankstown City- Bundaberg Red Cup, Allen Soultan - Wests Magpies
Al Jazeera and agencies