Rugby League: Mark Kheirallah's journey from Kurri Kurri Bulldogs to World Cup encounter with Kangaroos

STEP: French fullback Mark Kheirallah playing for Kurri in 2013. Picture: Stuart Scott
STEP: French fullback Mark Kheirallah playing for Kurri in 2013. Picture: Stuart Scott

Four years ago Mark Kheirallah helped orchestrate Kurri Kurri’s magical late-season surge to the Newcastle Rugby League finals. 

And only last month he was organising a trip back to the Hunter for his English girlfriend Stephanie to meet family, including his uncle of Bulldogs fame Danny Linnane. 

But this Friday night in Canberra, the man better known as “Killer” will line-up at fullback for France and tackle World Cup hosts and favourites the Kangaroos.

Unexpectedly named in the national side from his long-term French club side Toulouse Olympique, the 27-year-old said he was simply “riding the wave” at the international tournament but knows the challenge ahead facing the “mighty” green and gold. 

“Honestly, it [playing at the World Cup] hasn’t really kicked in as of yet, its just all been so surreal,” he said.

“The fact I didn’t get told until later and I already had in my head it was going to be an all French team, so the realisation was delayed.

“But come Friday night it’s all going to come rushing in I reckon.”

France, who lost their tournament opener 29-18 to Lebanon on Sunday, have been given a 56.5-point start by the bookies and are paying $61 to beat Australia in the David-versus-Goliath-type battle. 

Despite the stacked odds and playing against the likes of Kangaroos’ all-star trio Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, Kheirallah admits rugby league can be a “funny game” sometimes. 

“The mighty Kangaroos,” Kheirallah said.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge, they are the best in the world. Any team they go up against, even England or New Zealand, it’s always going to be a challenge.

“I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it. No one is backing us to get anywhere near them and we haven’t got anything to lose. Football can be a funny game sometimes.”

Kheirallah was born and raised in the NSW state capital, playing juniors for the Mascot Jets before stints at the South Sydney Rabbitohs (Harold Matthews, SG Ball) and Sydney Roosters (under 20s, NSW Cup, NRL), which included his sole first grade game in 2011.

Since 2013 he’s predominately been based in France with Championship club Toulouse Olympique, where he replaced now Newcastle Knights back Nathan Ross.

All-but a brief and bold half-year campaign with Kurri, which he remembers fondly, teaming up with Ross and helping the Bulldogs win six of their last eight games to snare the fifth and final spot in the semis.

“It’s definitely been a while [since Kurri], but that was amazing,” Kheirallah said.

“Uncle Danny [Linnane] picked me up from the airport in Sydney and asked me to play. I didn’t have any other plans so I said why not. It was a terrific year and a terrific team. But it was a real shame I couldn’t stay [because of French contract] for the finals.”

ROUND 2: Australia v France (Friday, 8pm), New Zealand v Scotland (Saturday, 3pm), Samoa v Tonga (Saturday, 5:30pm), England v Lebanon, (Saturday, 8pm), Italy v USA (Sunday, 4pm), PNG v Ireland (Sunday, 5pm), Fiji v Wales (Sunday, 6:30pm).