Rhinos brace for stern test from Malta

This year's international representative weekend will feature the inaugural clash between the South African Rhinos and the Malta Knights in a contest that Rhinos coach Jon Wilson describes as being about "building our talent pool up".

The Rhinos will have a strong Queensland flavour, featuring Tweed Heads Seagulls prop Shane Gillham, Halvor Harris (lock, Townsville), Ashley Bull (second-row, Cairns), Jason King (hooker, Emerald Cowboys), Byron Hutchinson (centre, Runaway Bay) and Andre-Carl Joubert (five-eighth, Springsure Mountain Men) as well as former Queensland-based players Brendan and Jackson Frei.

South Africa's long-term aim is to increase their international ranking points (they are currently ranked 35th) and push for World Cup qualification, however this match is about bringing the team together, establishing a culture and getting an idea of where they sit compared to a more established and experienced side such as Malta, who are ranked 17th.

"We want to keep this group together and hopefully get them playing more regularly, perhaps with annual fixtures," Wilson said. "We've picked a fairly hard first-up test for this group. Malta have been together a long time and have a large talent pool of players playing at a high level," he said.

Shane Gillham, Tweed Heads Seagulls prop, will suit up for the Rhinos.
Shane Gillham, Tweed Heads Seagulls prop, will suit up for the Rhinos.

Special meaning

One of the key people in building that culture is former Ipswich Jet and Brisbane Bronco Gideon Mzembe. Mzembe, who has played for South Africa, is the teams' strength and conditioning coach and described representing his homeland as an honour. "My grandmother grew up in the Apartheid era, it is truly an honour to represent South Africa, for all the people from those generations that never got the chance," he said.

The Rhinos are a heritage team, meaning all of the players must have been born in South Africa to qualify.
It is the first time the Rhinos have played in Australia since 2015 and should be one of the strongest South African sides assembled.
As well as the Queensland contingent, the side will include five players from NSW, five from Western Australia, one from New Zealand and two (Marcelle Viljoen and Zach Van Loggerenber) who will fly over from South Africa.

Where, when

The international is being played from 3pm on Sunday, June 24, at St Marys Rugby League Club, Sydney, and will be live streamed. Go to the South African Rugby League Heritage Association Facebook page or the Malta Rugby League page for details of the stream.

Matt Crowhurst is a QRL Correspondent