Michael Cheika vows Lebanon RL job is personal while still coaching Argentina RU | The Sun

MICHAEL Cheika is on a mission to crack the codes after temporarily swapping rugby union for rugby league.

But why is the Argentina RU and former Australia RU boss, who is still in charge of the Pumas, coaching Lebanon’s rugby league team at the World Cup?

The answer is simple. This is not a professional move, this is personal.

This is his way of giving back to his parents’ homeland. For Joseph, who arrived in Australia virtually penniless and friendless and eventually ran his own business and received an award from Queen Elizabeth II.

For Therese, who emigrated carrying a letter from his family recommending he marry her. He went to Lebanon, they did not come to him.

And in terms of rugby, this is not as unlikely a move as it may seem – although travelling with top union sides, where everything is laid on, and the Cedars, where hardly anything is, are very different.

“I’m certainly not here doing a job,” Cheika admitted. “I’m here because I want to be.

“The opportunity to do something for our heritage – for myself as well as a lot of the players – you never think you’ll get the chance to do it in your selected area.

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“This is a great opportunity for us to give something back in our area of knowledge.

“And for me to give the opportunity for people in Lebanon, even if it’s a sport they may not know too well, to have a couple of hours away from their troubles by looking at their national team playing in sport is huge.

“I went through a guy I know in Australia. He was involved with Lebanon at the last World Cup. After working with Sydney Roosters, it seemed a good fit and here we are.

“Coaching the two codes is very different but at the end of the day, it’s really the same.

“It’s about getting players to know exactly what their team wants from them and going out their and playing beyond their potential on any given day.

“I look after things you see in rugby union, like the ruck. In both games, that’s extremely essential.

“In attack, you want to speed it up, in union or league. The concept’s the same. Carrying the ball, tackling, all those things are exactly the same too.

“There are some similarities in how you prepare for the game and key important areas in it but then there are some nuances in rugby league.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have had experience of those, though. I’ve spent time with the Roosters over the last couple of years and I’ve got some of their coaches with us too.

“There are some specifics, technical details of the game which you leave to your coaching and support team, which I do in union as well.”

Much of Lebanon’s squad is made up of players based in western Sydney, where a huge Lebanese community lives.

Cheika shows no sign of being Australian by birth as he belts out the country’s national anthem in Arabic.

His side showed much of its potential in Saturday’s 38-22 win over Wales and as he sat in the stands next to former Warrington man Matt King, with ex-Australia and Lebanon hooker Robbie Farah on his staff, his manner belied his rough, tough exterior.

This was no air conditioned coaches’ box, this was the back row of the stand at Heywood Road in Sale, with fans – and Manchester’s Lebanese Group, which made plenty of noise with a few Aussie accents thrown in on Saturday is backing them – sat a metre away.

“You trust the players, they know what to do,” Cheika added. “I get it when coaches blow up, I can do it, but it depends how things roll in a game.

“Saturday was an important game to start getting up to speed for us.

“We started getting a camp together at the start of September, as teams went out of the various competitions in Australia. We started connecting and we had the entire squad – apart from Mitchell Moses – for the week before we flew over, so we were able to work on plenty of things.

“Mitchell was in the NRL Grand Final but he was keen to get over here. However, I just wanted him to take a few days to get his head away from rugby league.”

There is one potential fly in the ointment if Lebanon qualify from a group that contains New Zealand, Ireland and Jamaica.

Get through in second place, they play their quarter final on Friday, November 4 with Argentina playing England RU at Twickenham on Sunday, November 6.

Win it, they play the night before the 15-a-side clash!

“That Twickenham game is on a Sunday,” Cheika retorted with instantly. “The quarter finals are a fair way down the track, there’s a few hoops to jump through there.

“Ideally, though, like most things in rugby league, you work it out when it comes along.”

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