Written by Stuart McLennan
A photo posted recently on the Red Star Belgrade rugby league club social media page was attracting plenty of attention.
“We received this picture today of a fan in Australia with their Red Star Belgrade RLK jersey, does he look familiar?” the club asked.
Anyone with a vague interest in the game of rugby league would have recognised it as Newcastle, Wigan, Cronulla, NSW and Australian player and now Fox Sports host Matty Johns wearing the famous red and white strip.
Red Star rugby league club Owner/Director Colin Kleyweg takes up the story.
“In late 2019, Matty Johns contacted our Instagram page and commended our work growing the game in Serbia. He said that as a child he liked Red Star Belgrade football and was happy to see the club in rugby league now.
“We asked him if he would wear a jersey and he said yes. The rest is history.
“Matty promoted the jersey on the same weekend Sky News does a Foreign Correspondent piece (on Red Star) and it became our biggest weekend for social media since we played Partizan in the Super Cup Final earlier this year.”
Johns would have been aware of the positive effect that the picture would have on the Red Star club and the Serbian rugby league community.
In countries where football and basketball players are stars and role models the smaller rugby league communities look outside to the Super League or NRL for inspiration.
It is common for those in developing rugby league communities to get together in a bar to watch NRL matches and Origin in particular. The players have their teams and heroes they follow.
A couple of summers back a quick thinking Greek official enticed Canterbury Bulldogs defence coach Steve Antonelli to an Aris Eagles training session after meeting him on an Athens walking tour.
Antonelli gave his time and expertise to teach tackling techniques to the squad. Your correspondent can tell you from first hand experience that not only did our defence improve markedly, you couldn’t put a price on the thrill the team felt having an NRL level coach give up holiday time to help out.
Taking time out for a photo, a video or attending a training session doesn’t take a lot of eww effort but it can go a long way towards growing and developing the game internationally. .
Greek Rugby League Association President George Stilianos would love to see more collaboration involving NRL players and coaches with emerging rugby league nations.
“It would be great because a lot of the players here watch NRL and it would be a real thrill for everyone.
“The great thing about when we have such visits is that it brings everyone together, players from all teams, training together, even players from rugby union come for a look.”
From little things big things grow indeed.