Super League, NRL rookies to represent African heritage in MEA Championship
St Helens teen Rio-Osayomwanbo Corkill, Hull KR prop Daniel Okoro and Castleford Tigers rookie Abdullah Balogun will represent Nigeria at upcoming Middle East Africa Championship, while Ghana have named Canterbury Bulldogs forward Levi Osei.
Corkill, a 19-year-old playmaker or backrower, made his Super League debut for Saints in August's clash with Wakefield Trinity and hopes to help Nigeria qualify for the 2025 World Cup in France.
“Being chosen for Nigeria means a lot to me, and the chance to represent a side of my family that I would love to learn more about is very exciting,” he said. “To do my family proud is the priority for me, and representing them here is something special.
“To have the opportunity to be the trailblazers for African rugby league is also something very exciting, and to make the people of Nigeria proud of our performances and journey would mean a lot to the team.”
Photo: Rio-Osayomwanbo Corkill playing for St Helens (Instagram)
Okoro, who will commence pre-season training under new Hull KR coach Willie Peters when he returns from the tournament in Accra, is also in the Nigerian squad, along with Balogun, who is considered a rising star at Castleford.
“I was born in Nigeria, but I have lived here all my life, so I’ve not had the time to explore my originality and go back home to see the family," Balogun told the club's website. "It will be class to represent my home and where I come from.
"My mum has been with me for the whole ride, through the ups and downs. She tries to talk me out of sport because of the dangers but she’s also proud of me. She knows how hard I work, and I really appreciate her for that.
“My goal is to hopefully qualify for the next World Cup. I think after this tournament, there's one more we have to compete in and if we win those two games, we’ll qualify.”
Photo: Abdullah Balogun is proud to represent his heritage (Castleford Tigers)
The MEA Championship is the first step towards qualifying for the 2025 World Cup in France, with the top two nations at the tournament advancing to next year's MEA Cup against Lebanon and South Africa.
Osei, who plays second-row for Canterbury's SG Ball team, will be joined by Glebe Dirty Reds centre Sean Sabutey and Helensburgh Tigers fullback Isaac Akuoko in the Ghana Leopards squad.
Akuoko, whose father is from Ghana, played Jersey Flegg for Manly Sea Eagles in 2018 and is a development officer for the Accra Majestics.
"The boys are ready, they have undergone some intense training," Ghana coach Andy Gilvary said.
"We have several new guys in the team this year - Yakubu Suleman, David Nartey, Jonas Moorkaar, Bawa Bright, Francis Lawson, Isaac Akuoko, Levi Osei and Sean Sabutey - and they are talents to watch out for in the MEA region."
The tournament will be played at the University of Ghana, in Legon, Accra from September 27 to October 2, with Ghana facing Kenya and Nigeria meeting Cameroon in the opening round of fixtures.
"This is the strongest possible team we could have assembled to go into training camp, and the players have all evolved so much," Cameroon coach Khalil Njoya said.
"The final selection will not be easy but whoever will be out there will have merited their spot. We did not get the pleasure to test Nigeria in 2019, and potentially qualifying for the 2025 World Cup would be a dream come true for us.”
Kenya has taken the place of Morocco and according to their team manager, John Mbai, they are set to make an impact in their first major tournament.
"The selection of the squad has been a very tough exercise as there was very little to separate the group," Mbai said. "We are excited about the possibilities that this team can achieve, and I am sure they will do their best to give a good account of themselves.”
Jean Claude Bidjana, Armel Damdja, Cyrille Kamole, Nzokou Martial, Hermand Nguele, Patrick Nkouak, Lamare Oudi (Bulls RL), Emmanuel Tientchue (Gorilla RL), Mouhamed Embella, Christian Tedjou, Loic Tsasse (Guepard RL), Philippe Ambassa, Bekolo Elie Jean Bliase, Ledoux Fosso, Fabrice Joufang, Frank Watio (Panda RL) Pitoile Assomo, Paul Atungsiri Ndifor, Georgane Ngoufack (Rock RL) Carol Manga, Khalil Njoya (Unattached)
Yakubu Suleman (Accra Majestics), Jonas Moorkaar (Accra Panthers), Anane Benjamin, Kwasi Akuamoah Boateng, Bawa Bright, Geotrah Desmond, Collins Ofosu, Nigel Sackey (Bulls), Levi Osei (Canterbury Bulldogs), Sean Sabutey (Glebe Dirty Reds), Oliver Puman (Nungua Tigers), Jonathan Adotey, Philip Asomani, John Bless Mensah (Pirates), Emmanuel Acheampong, Riddick Alibah, Richard Amevor, Jordan Annan, Elvis Ayertey, William Pearce Biney, Chris da Gama, Francis Lawson (Skolars), Joseph Nelson (St Mary’s University), Isaac Akuoko (Helensburgh Tigers)
Denish Ndinya (AP), John Awiti Oketch, Raymond Ekutu (Rhinos), Tony Khadambi, Brony Lucky, Timothy Thimba (Ruffians), Joel Inzuga, Eliakim Kichoi, Celestine Mboi, Floyd Wambwire, (Sharks), James Maranga, Ramadan Masete, Finely Mokoro, Remi Odhiambo, Victor Odhiambo, Philimon Olang, Paul Seda (Winam), Horus Alela, Ahmed Hamed, Collin Ochieng, Wyclif Ratemo (Wolves)
Anthony Tuoyo Egodo (Birmingham Mosley RFC), Michael Ayodeji Ogunwole (British Army), Abdullah Balogun (Castleford Tigers), Kanu Shedrack Agwu (Eko Trinity), Daniel Okoro (Hull KR), Jude Abrakson, Emmanuel Onyekwe Ebuk, Julius Godwin, Nuhu Ibrahim, Gabriel John, Issa Omale, Ibrahim Suraju, Bashir Usman (Kano Lions), Azuka Chika, Daniel John, Isah Lawal-Saulawa, Olisa Nwokedi, Kelvin Olisa, Akeem Yusuf (Lagos Haven), Rio-Osayomwanbo Christoper Corkill (St Helens)