Written by Stuart McLennan
It was appropriate that Darcy Etrich played his final game for Red Star Belgrade guiding a number of debutants around the paddock in the picturesque surrounds of Lignano, a resort town in northern Italy on the Adriatic Coast.
“My dream for a long time has been to live and play overseas and I’m grateful that Red Star has given me that opportunity. I’ve been able to visit a few different countries, meet some great people and experience new things,” Etrich told Everything Rugby League.
Red Star went into the game against Lignano Sharks a depleted side, with ten regular players on duty with the national squad. It was an opportunity for the junior academy players to step up under the direction of the wily Aussie halfback.
Etrich didn’t disappoint, scoring two tries and laying the platform for Red Star’s 30-22 win over the Italian side, ensuring the Belgrade club held top spot in Group A of the Balkan Super League heading into the finals.
“I think most of the players in our team gained more from actually playing alongside me rather than at training purely because I communicate and organise a lot more on the field than at training.
“I was able to help the guys that play the same positions as me with small adjustments to the way that they play,” said Etrich who has previously been a member of the Melbourne Storm under 20s and Waratahs Super Rugby squads.
As coach of the Aris Eagles, your correspondent can attest to the impact of Darcy Etrich in the Balkan Super League competition after he treated our less experienced side to a masterclass in Athens.
Coach Brett Davidson has implemented a free flowing attacking style at Red Star that is less structured than typical NRL six tackle sets. It is entertaining and has been highly effective.
The strategy enabled Etrich to display his attacking prowess while promoting the talents of other Red Star players such as elusive fullback Milos Zogovic who had a field day in Athens on the end of Etrich’s plays.
Fellow Australian and Red Star Owner/Director Colin Kleyweg is acutely aware of the value Etrich brought to the club.
“Darcy is a tremendous person who the club has got to know and love over the last 6 months. As I wrote on my personal (Facebook) page, it’s not often I meet people who deliver more than what they promised. Darcy is a credit to Australia and to his Indigenous brothers and sisters and I am so proud to have met him,” Kleyweg said to Everything Rugby League.
There is a view that Red Star, who entered the Coral Challenge Cup for the first time earlier this year has outgrown the domestic competition and Balkan region after posting a series of big wins. That opinion is not shared by Kleyweg or Etrich.
“Red Star hasn’t outgrown our region. It would be really pompous of me to suggest something like that, and being pompous doesn’t cut it in a sport like rugby league,” Kleyweg said emphatically.
“We’ve set an agenda that we want others to follow. We can see this year that our level of play has increased strongly. Not just with Darcy, but in my opinion some of our domestic Serbian players are playing the best rugby league I’ve seen in my involvement.
“While we are winning strongly, many of the results are less than the scores we put on in 2018, so that tells me what we are doing is working and key regional teams are improving.
“When Darcy leaves we will see a closing of the gap.
“The Balkans and the Serbian League are very important to us and we are already talking internally about how to revamp the Serbian the competition in 2020.”
Etrich believes the growth of Red Star will provide inspiration for the other Serbian clubs in the domestic competition.
“I think Red Star has a lot of skilled, strong players and the key to their success is training and getting experienced coaches in to guide the boys and pass on their knowledge and experience. I think as the other clubs in Serbia grow they definitely have the potential to be strong and compete with Red Star,” Etrich said.
Meanwhile Darcy has returned to the Central Coast of New South Wales while awaiting another opportunity to combine his love of rugby league and travel.
“At this point in time I’m unsure what the future holds for me for the remainder of my footy career. I would like to use the years I’ve got left playing competitive footy at an international club, perhaps in France or England, but I have no plans in place yet.”