The upcoming Greek domestic rugby league season will mark 10 years since the Aris Eagles club came into existence, taking the field as Aris Petroupolis in 2013 after initially linking with the Greek football club of the same name.
Club stalwart Aris Dardamanis, who played for Greece in the 2021 World Cup at the age of 36, remembers his introduction to rugby league after the Greek Rugby League Federation President George Stilianos posted a notice inviting readers to come and try the sport on Facebook.
“To be honest, in the very beginning, I thought it was going to be something like American football. I had never seen a rugby league match, so when I went to the first training I was like where are the helmets, where are the pads?” Dardamanis explains.
Starting with centralised training, the players then split into teams based on their home locations. The initial teams for the inaugural men’s Greek domestic competition were Promitheas, Pegasus, Aris Petroupolis, AEK Kokkinias and Rhodes Knights. In an impressive run Rhodes Knights have been premiers every year since the inception of the competition.
Despite the well documented trials and tribulations suffered by Greek rugby league over the last decade, Aris Eagles has continued to flourish, reaching the men’s grand final four times and winning the first women’s premiership decider last year.
Inagural men’s coach and current women’s coach Jim Minadakis says he has two favourite moments in the club’s short but eventful history.
“I’d say the first is winning our first title as the Greek women’s champions last year and the second was the four Aris Eagles players representing Greece at the World Cup last year”
Minadakis, who Dardamanis describes as “very passionate”, believes the Eagles club are in for a bumper season which will start with a 9s tournament on September 24 and a match against Athens Raiders with a first division place up for grabs.
“The men’s team has done some strong recruitment this year and we are very positive this year we will be a team that will play every game like it’s a grand final. That’s the mentality this year and for the women’s team we are definitely raising the bar to reach a level of footy that will have everyone talking about how good the women play,” Minadakis said.
This correspondent had the great fortune of coaching the Aris Eagles between 2017-2019 with highlights being participation in the Balkan Super League and matches against Serbian powerhouses Red Star and Partizan while recording a historic victory against Dorcol in Sofia and the creation of a women’s team at the club.
However what was most remarkable for me was how once involved you become ‘family’ and a member of a strong supportive community.
Dardamanis explains. “If a player gets injured we all like to give something so we can help him or her financially. If a player cannot come on a trip because they don’t have any money we always try to support it. We never leave someone out because of money.
“We are very close together. We know each player’s wife or husband. We know the name of their dogs, we know the name of their kids, we hang out together. We’re not just the team on the field. We are actually a family on that side of it.”
May the Aris Eagles fly forever!