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Malta Knights unveil Test programme after World Cup debacle 

By Jason Costigan

Maltese Rugby League officials have unveiled a bumper end-of-season international programme involving Tests against Montenegro, Bulgaria, Chile and the Philippines.

In a positive sign for the development of the 13-a-side game in Malta, the Knights will play two Tests in Europe including a home international against the Bulgarians in Marsa before back-to-back Tests on neutral turf in Australia.

The announcement comes after a tumultuous time for the international game that started with cash-strapped France surrendering the right to host the next World Cup, which had been originally scheduled for October and November 2025. 

That precipitated another shock decision, this time by the European Rugby League which dumped its 2023 representative programme, impacting a swag of nations including Malta. 

To make matters worse, the International Rugby League has since opted to postpone the next World Cup by 12 months and in the process, took a knife to the showpiece event, cutting the number of men’s teams from 16 to 10.

That means only two places will be up for grabs with the eight quarter-finalists from RLWC2021 receiving automatic entry. 

Despite the obvious challenges, Maltese officials remain upbeat, with the four Tests providing players with an opportunity to pull on the Knights jersey in the hope of ultimately qualifying for RLWC2026.

“We’re excited for our upcoming national team games,” said MRL president Jean Pierre Zarb who also plays for the Knights, whose first-up assignment will be in Montenegro on September 16 before welcoming Bulgaria to Malta a week later.

“Last year, we won both of our European-based home and away internationals and we’re pushing for the same results this year. Our domestic players have been working hard during the summer and are eager to be selected.”

After the Test in Marsa on September 23, the Knights will set up camp Down Under, playing Chile on October 21 before tackling the Philippines on October 28 in both men’s and women’s fixtures with all three games in Sydney. 

The Maltese men, after cracking the IRL’s top 10 last year, are now ranked 19th in the world, ahead of Chile (22), Philippines (33), Bulgaria (35) and Montenegro (38).

The Maltese women, known as the Dames, are ranked 17th with their Filipino opponents in Sydney recently jumping five places to 14. 

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