The Macedonia Lions made it back-to-back Emerging Nations trophies at the 2023 Harmony 9s tournament with a 12-4 win over Africa United at Croom Regional Sporting Complex at Albion Park, just south of Wollongong at the weekend.
Macedonia scored early in the 16-minute final (two eight-minute halves) and although Africa replied just two sets later, the Lions held the lead throughout the two tries-to-one victory.
Macedonia won the 2022 Emerging Nations cup with captain James Mirceski said his country was heading in the right direction.
“All the players are really starting to buy in,” he said, after playing in consecutive years.
“Soccer is still our national sport but we’re Australian and it’s now about our younger players learning about Rugby League.
“It’s now the second generation coming through that are starting to pick it up more so I hope we can keep coming here.
“It’s sensational to play with my brothers here – the best. Now we hope we can get to the World Cup, that’s the next bigger stage we’re after.”
Africa United captain Stimon Mow said it was disappointing not to get the win, but making the final was “a good reward for the work we’ve been doing”.
“I’m very proud of the boys – we’re building something because our goal is to be the best.
“We started in 2012 as a club and we’ve gone from juniors to seniors so we’re branching out.
“We all live in Australia and we love the game obviously. But we want to also get back home and grow the game.
“We’ve seen Ghana and Nigeria and Kenya seeing what we’re doing with Rugby League and they’re now taking the initiative to get involved.”
The two-day event is showcasing 134 games with eight trophies up for grabs: Emerging Nations, Mixed League Tag, Under 16s and Under 18s boys and girls, Open Men and Open Women.
There are 27 heritage groups, 80 teams and 1200 players involved in the nine-a-side game.
Poland made only its second appearance in Harmony 9s but this year made it through the preliminary rounds to the Mixed League Tag final against NSW Maori – the defending champions.
Maori’s team communication skills were on show as they raced to a 22-0 lead at halftime.
Poland pulled one try back in the second half but NSW Maori score three more to run out convincing winners 36-4.