What started out as a joke in a business meeting has ended up with a local junior rugby league team receiving a life changing sponsorship of $40,000 from the government of Oman.
Dragons fan and business man Michael Ibrahim, whose son Tyson plays for Penshurst RSL, secured the sponsorship for the St George District club at a meeting with His Excellency, Sheikh Nasser Bin Mohammed Al Hashar in the Middle East earlier this year.
The money will go towards registration costs for junior players as well as gear, with Penshurst RSL now carrying the national flag of Oman on their jerseys.
Mr Ibrahim, who has been based in the Middle East for about 15 years, decided to take his teenage son on his last trip to Oman.
And it all started when Mr Al Hashar began to show an interest in rugby league.
“We went into this meeting and I said to Tyson ‘just sit in the corner, don’t say anything, just watch,’” Mr Ibrahim said.
“But His Excellency said to him ‘you don’t learn anything by sitting in the corner’ and invited to sit next to him.
“From there he asked Tyson what sport he played and my son told him rugby league.
“Tyson showed him some rugby league on his phone and they loved it.
“So I asked sarcastically would he like to sponsor my son’s team. He asked how much and I just plucked a number $40,000 out of nowhere.
“And His Excellency’s chief of staff came back with a cheque and gave it to Tyson.”
Mr Ibrahim said the money had already made a world of difference for the club.
“It’s a fact of life that some parents can’t afford the $80 for registration or the money for boots or jerseys,” he said.
“And those kids then get lost to the game of rugby league.
“But at our club this money has changed all that. Registration, boots, jerseys, gear. It’s been a life changer.
“It’s not just helped out my son’s team but the whole club.”
Mr Ibrahim said the club couldn’t be more thankful for the sponsorship.
“This is all down to the generosity of the Omani people,” he said.
“As a destination I recommend it as a place for everyone to go and see.
“This is their money. They started this. It’s all because of them.”
The link has also thrown up the possibility of the NRL tapping into a new market.
With so many NRL clubs struggling financially, Mr Ibrahim said it made sense that eventually they would explore the Middle East as a viable route to becoming sustainable.
“When you knock down a mountain you start by picking up some pebbles,” he said.
“This is just a baby step.
“If someone like me can do it you wonder why these clubs are bleeding financially.
“Clubs need to start thinking outside the normal circles and try and get some of that money.
“The dollars are out there, it’s commonsense.”