The blood, sweat and tears James Elias has put into battling what could have been career-ending injuries has paid off for the Corlette rugby league player.
Elias, 23, was last Thursday officially announced in Lebanon’s 24-man World Cup squad, which will be coached by Brad Fittler and captained by South Sydney NRL player Robbie Farah.
“I’m pretty happy I got on the team,” Elias said. “I’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting my body back into playing shape again after doing my ankle and knee.
“Being selected makes all the rehab and complaining to my partner and family worth it.”
A month ago Elias, a teacher’s aid at Irrawang High School and a youth worker, was playing for Western Suburbs in the Newcastle Rugby League grand final.
Later this month, he will take to the sport’s biggest international stage for Lebanon.
The selection came after a tough couple of years for Elias, who grew up playing league for Nelson Bay, played NSW Cup for three years and reserve grade for the Newcastle Knights.
While playing NSW Cup in 2015 he injured his ankle which required three operations.
Then in 2016 he injured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial ligament and medial meniscus in his knee.
“I never thought I would play again,” Elias said.
“I wasn’t going to play this year, but didn’t want to throw it all away.”
He played most of 2017 in Wests’ second-row, his first year in the “local league”.
Elias said the three-hour commutes from Port Stephens to Concord three times a week for training were made worthwhile when hearing his name read out alongside NRL players such as Farrah, Mitchell Moses and Tim Mannah (both Parramatta Eels).
“I’m very honoured and proud,” he said.
“This isn’t representing a club, it’s representing a country, my grandparents’ heritage.”
His maternal grandmother lives in Lakemba.
Elias helped Lebanon qualify for the World Cup in South Africa in 2015.
He also played for Lebanon against Fiji in 2014.
Fitler said it had been tough selecting a final squad for the rugby league World Cup.
“Most the team are either playing first grade, NSW Cup or Ron Massey Cup, so they have a good level of fitness and that’s going to be important,” he said.
“Looking at the squad, we have two front rowers [Tim Mannah and Alex Twal] who are regular NRL players so that will be a huge benefit for us.
“We just have to get it right in these tough pool matches, we won’t get any second chances and that has been the message the team.
“The fact is that only half a dozen of our squad are full-time professionals, so we need to make every opportunity count.”
“They are able to last and concentrate for the whole tournament,” he said.
Last Sunday, the Lebanon team played a warm up game against Niue at Leichhardt Oval.
While Lebanon won 32-16 Elias said it was the game was a “bit scrappy”.
“We have some improvement to make,” he said. “And we will have to because of the teams we’re going up against [in the World Cup].”
Lebanon open their tournament against France in Canberra on October 29 before meeting England on November 4 and hosts Australia on November 11 at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.
The Lebanon team will enter a three-week training camp on Sunday, ahead of their clash with France.