Courtesy Daily Telegraph
Cameroon’s Carol Manga had never heard of rugby league until he arrived in Australia as a 21-year-old on a sporting visa to play rugby union.
Fast forward 10 years and buoyed by the support of NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler and former Kangaroo Michael Hancock, he has helped establish the foundations of the game in his West African country of birth — all without a cent of funding.
Manga helped steer Cameroon to the verge of participating in next month’s Emerging Nations Rugby League World Championship in Sydney, but a lack of sponsorship ruined that plan.
Fittler heard about Manga when he was preparing Lebanon for the 2017 World Cup, so he invited him into camp in Canberra for a week.
“He just flies the flag for league wherever he goes, he’s a beauty,” Fittler said.
Manga’s journey began in 2008 on arrival in Australia, where he had hopes to play rugby union professionally. Within weeks, his outlook had changed dramatically.
“When I came to Australia I saw the Raiders on TV and thought, ‘wow, what is this?’” Manga said.
“My first year in rugby league showed me that Africans, Cameroonians, would be good in the sport because we are so fast and strong.”
In his first year in Australia, Manga spent time with the Cooma Stallions in the Group 16 competition in country NSW while working as a security guard, before moving to Queensland to try his hand with the Ipswich Jets.
While working for the Moreton Bay Council in North Brisbane, Manga met Queensland legend Michael Hancock at a rugby league disability day. Manga told Hancock of his ambition to launch the sport back home.
“He sent me three massive boxes of rugby league balls and gear,” Manga said.
“Bibs, jerseys, shorts, T-shirts, lots of stuff.”
Manga contacted his former rugby union club and organised a rugby league gala day in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde — his home town — in 2012.
On the day, he arranged basic drills and finished with a 13-on-13 game that Manga refereed.
“What I saw that day, it was just a confirmation of everything I believed in,” Manga said.
“I had around 200 players turn up.
“What motivates me is that I want to give to the youths what I didn’t have as an athlete.”
In a country of 23.5 million, Manga’s tireless work has helped establish a 12-team men’s championship and competitions for women and kids.
Cameroon Rugby League have recently been recognised by the Rugby League International Foundation as a playing nation and have been granted Observer status.
This means the association are now a part of the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) which presents further opportunities for game development and support in the region.
It joins other African countries Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone accepted into the RLEF, which acknowledges the development appeal of a region numbering 1.2 billion people.
Manga remains committed to the cause, and he’s battling to have the country awarded as an Affiliate member of the Rugby League International Federation, which would open the door for funding from the Cameroon Government.
In the meantime, Cameroon are in the process of organising their first international game against either Ghana or Nigeria in November.
For Manga, his rugby league dream is well and truly alive.