Lebanon Legend Profile: Hazem El Masri

Arguably one of the most beloved players in the history of Rugby League, Hazem El Masri came from a non-traditional Rugby League background to win the hearts of all footy fans with his amazing kicking, his dazzling running and the impeccable way in which he carried himself.
Born in Tripoli, Lebanon, El Masri moved with his devout Muslim parents to Sydney at the age of 12. Having played soccer in his homeland, it was the sport he took up when he arrived in his new country. In high school though, he switched to Rugby League. It was a move that would etch El Masri’s place in history when he retired nearly two decades later as Rugby League’s greatest ever pointscorer, the seventh highest tryscorer and one of the code’s greatest ambassadors.
El Masri followed a traditional route to the top grade even if he had come from a non-traditional background, trialling for Canterbury’s Jersey Flegg side in 1994. Within two years, he was playing first grade, debuting in Round 2 of the ’96 season as the Bulldogs entered a rebuild after their famous 1995 premiership.
He was a permanent fixture in the team by the 1997 Super League season and what a season it was with 16 tries in his final 13 games propelling him to second on the tryscoring tally that season. The highlight of the season was no doubt his four-try haul in an epic 48-36 victory over the Hunter Mariners. A star was born.
While he marked his ability as a star winger early for Canterbury, it was the most unlikely city of Avignon in the south of France where El Masri’s goalkicking entered the stuff of legend. Playing for Lebanon during the 1999 Mediterranean Cup, El Masri kicked 16-from-18 to go with four tries in the Cedars’ 104-0 victory over Morocco. His 48-point haul remains an international record.
Perhaps the most astonishing fact about El Masri’s storied career that finished with 2418 points – still over 200 points clear of second-placed Cameron Smith – was the fact he was Canterbury’s regular goalkicker for his first five seasons in first grade with Daryl Halligan, the one-time recordholder holding down the left wing.
Halligan’s retirement propelled El Masri into the ether with pointscoring records tumbling as regularly as magic moments were produced. The diminutive winger scored an incredible 250-plus points in every season from 2001 to 2004. In 2002 El Masri nailed perhaps his most famous goal, a winning sideline conversion on the final siren against the Knights in Newcastle that capped an incredible comeback. In 2004 El Masri scored a record 342 points on his way to scoring a try and kicking two goals in the Bulldogs’ 16-13 Grand Final win.
Rep honours followed. He made his Australian debut in 2002 and was a late call-up to the final game of the 2007 series, scoring a try and booting three goals. It is his career with Lebanon though that highlight his rep career with El Masri scoring 162 points in his seven internationals for the Cedars that included the 2000 World Cup.
He continued to kick goals and score tries, breaking the premiership record in Round 1 of the 2009 season, his final year in first grade. He surpassed 300 first grade games that same year. Six times he topped the premiership’s pointscoring tally.
The greatest tribute to El Masri’s stature in the game though was the crowd that showed up to his final home game. The nearly 75,000 people who showed up to say goodbye is a record for non-Grand Final matches, a beautiful honour to one of the game’s true greats.

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