Panthers fan and Rugby League advocate Anthony Micallef is currently growing the game of Rugby League in the tiny Mediterranean Island of Malta.
The Panthers donated a playing strip to the Maltese Rugby League currently used by Malta Origin RL, one of the five domestic teams in Malta.
We caught up with Anthony about the next steps for Rugby League in Malta and his passion for the Panthers.
How long have you been a Panthers fan?
My dad took me to my first match in the early 1990's. Andrew Leeds won the match for Penrith with a penalty goal from about half way and I was sitting behind the posts. That's it, I was hooked!
I’ve seen some bad times and I’ve seen some great times, but it’s all part of the game, and I’m a Panther for life!
How long has Rugby League been played in Malta?
I was a part of the founding committee that set up the first game of Rugby League in Malta in 2005. Former Panther Anthony Xuereb was one of the first Malta representative players and ex Panther Jarrod Sammut is a regular in our national team, ranked 22 in the world.
We've now had a national championship played for the last few years and this year we have five teams playing five rounds plus finals over the summer together with the MRL Cup and MRL Super Cup trophies that are also on offer. One of the teams is from the sister island of Gozo so we truly have every corner of Malta covered. And we have two or three teams come over from England each year so we get some good, strong opposition to help the domestic game improve.
Do you get to see much NRL?
I try watch the Panthers every week. The massive time difference behind Australia means I can watch games in the morning, hopefully with a great victory and a great start to my day before work.
Local pubs sometimes screen NRL, but its State of Origin that fills pubs. Obviously European and world soccer is massive here, but State of Origin 2 certainly rocked the joint, we were at capacity this year watching NSW end Qld’s 9 year domination.
Which Panthers player has caught your eye in 2014?
Matt Moylan. He comes across as cool, calm and collected. He's the type of player you want in those pressure cooker situations and reminds me of a young Luke Lewis just getting the job done every week. I see him as a player that can really cement his place in the team for many years along with more rep honours to the City Origin appearance this year.
Describe the feeling of Malta Origin RL have when they run out in Panthers kit?
Obviously I'm biased to see the boys I coach wear Panthers kit. It was donated by the club a few years back, which I'm forever grateful for. The guys here love it and to be fair, it helps give that professional feel when every player looks the part in professional Panthers gear.
The first time they wore it they felt 10-foot tall and able to run through brick walls, I really believe it gives our boys a psychological advantage. Mind you the new gear looks incredible with new look home, away and alternate options and of course the new Panthers logo.
What are the next steps in the development program for Malta RL?
On a domestic level, the education of players about the game is a constant that we need to work on. More Rugby League, more of the time!
From a national team aspect, to build a reputation that the Maltese team can be known for and to keep knocking over much bigger and more fancied rugby league nations than ourselves, the likes of Norway, Denmark, Czech Republic that we have beaten recently and others in our path like Serbia, Germany, Italy and Russia.
2014 NRL prediction?
I love all the doubters, I really do. Observing the great things Phil Gould has done with the team has been nothing short of inspired, I'm loving watching it all come together.
I'd be lying if I said the Panthers can't take it out this year. One thing for sure, it's certainly a new and exciting era for Penrith, I'm proud to be a part of it.
For more informaiton on the progress of the Maltese Rugby League visit their website malteserugbyleague.com