Tigers Reserves and Academy player Abdullah Balogun had the honour of representing his home country of Nigeria earlier this month!
Nigeria faced off against Cameroon and Ghana in the Middle East Africa Rugby League Championship which acted as a qualifying tournament for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.
Hosted at Accra University in Ghana, Balogun’s side managed to go all the way to the final where they played the host country Ghana. Nigeria showed their strength in a comfortable 34-4 win to lift the trophy and go one step closer to a potential place at the next World Cup.
Looking back on an unforgettable time on his home continent of Africa, Abdullah reflected fondly on an event he will never forget and explained how much it meant to his family.
“We played Cameroon in the first game, and we got the win in a good test for us. It was a good game for us to see what we could produce and then the final game was against Ghana.
“They wanted to take the cup home just as much as we wanted to. We managed to play a bit smarter than them and we were really hungry which showed by us shooting up off our line. As a team we made sure we were in their faces and didn’t give them any time to play.
“For me it was an unreal experience. To be this young and to be called up to a national side is a huge achievement. It’s a big thing for me and my family. When I got back home my mum, and my sisters were waiting for me at the door and gave me a huge homecoming.
“Hearing that my family were watching me from back home was a very heartwarming feeling. When they found out I had been selected my mum was celebrating and she was calling all her friends.”
Amongst the Nigeria squad there was another familiar name to Castleford fans with former outside back Tuoyo Egodo captaining the side and the Fords youngster laid out that Egodo had a big influence on him during camp.
“He was a really good teacher for me. When we were doing extras after training, he would help me with my catching technique, my ball handling and passing. To have someone who is experienced as him helping me was very important.
“I’m young and I’m looking to continue developing in the game and I want to become the complete player.”
Nigeria’s first international rugby league contest only took place three years ago, however, the sport has come on leaps and bounds since and Balogun outlined that winning competitions like the one recently will only help the game grow.
“Winning the competition will help with the growth of the sport in the country because I would say that there is a lot of potential and a lot of people who have what it takes. Seeing how the Nigerian boys were and I think the majority of them would be Super League standard if they were taught more on the technical side of it.
“The hookers and half-backs were electric, so I feel like there is a lot of talent but the game needs growing more but it’s definitely on the up. Winning the tournament has brought more publicity in the newspapers and online so it’s good that people are getting involved.”
Nigeria’s success in the recent tournament sees them progress to a World Cup final qualifier and the young winger put forward just how proud he would be to represent his nation on the biggest stage.
“For the World Cup in 2025 there will be one or two spots for an African team. So, for a chance to go to the World Cup we could be playing either South Africa or Lebanon. It would mean a great amount to run out for my country at a major tournament. To keep progressing with Nigeria and achieve more with them would be great for me. It would bring a lot of pride to my family.”
Abdullah has represented Castleford’s Reserves and Academy sides this year and has also been part of the Tigers Foundation’s Tigers College which offers players the opportunity to gain qualifications alongside their training and playing opportunities.
In closing, Balogun mentioned the benefits of developing within the Fords’ system.
“The coaches have been an incredible amount of help. I’d say I’m a bit of a late developer, but the coaches always make time for us and spare some minutes to teach me what they can. They have given me a chance this year and without that, I wouldn’t be in the position to be able to play for my country.
“The education side of things is always well organised so I could balance my work with training. It isn’t just loads of learning and loads of sports, you also get time off to focus more on training or have downtime.”