Former Wallabies Michael Cheika has taken another major step in the direction of rugby league, with news that he is to become the head coach of the national team of Lebanon.

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Earlier this year Cheika raised eyebrows when he was named as an assistant coach at the NRL’s Roosters, but taking up the role of head coach for the Lebanese team is another major step towards the 13-man code.

In the extremely top-heavy world of international rugby league, which is dominated by just 3 to 4 teams, Lebanon rank a relatively impressive 10th. The vast bulk of the team are Australian citizens – who like Cheika – are from first or second-generation Lebanese families who emigrated to Australia over the course of the 20th century.

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‘The Cedars’ made the quarter-finals of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and the former No.8 will now coach the side going into the 2021 tournament.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for me to do something that represents the land where my parents came from,” Cheika told the Australia Daily Telegraph in an exclusive interview. “That tournament was a chance to show a little bit of the Lebanese culture not to just Australians but for everyone who was watching on TV.”

In fact, Cheika grew up watching and playing rugby league, and repped at age-grade to a high standard before making the switch to union with Randwick in 1985.

“Sport has an ability to bring people together, it brings out the best in people. I was watching those games, jumping up and down cheering and crying at times.

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“There is something about being Lebanese, you can never put your finger on it. I’m born here but when I went there as an adult the first time we landed in Beirut, I really felt a strong connection to the place.”

Cheika still has business in rugby union to deal with first. The former Leinster head coach is currently helping Argentina in the Tri Nations and is now plotting the downfall of the Wallabies, the team he coached for five years. Argentina head coach Mario Ledesma drafted in his former boss and colleague to help give the Pumas an edge in the competition and the Australian has made an impact. Ledesma worked with Cheika at Stade Francis, the Waratahs and eventually the Wallabies.

“I was in his place a few years ago and it’s not easy,” Ledesma said about Cheika. “He’s a very proud Australian and that’s not going to change.”

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