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Eye of the Tigrovi: Dorcol rising on the back of youth

16 Dec 20, 10:54AM 0 Comments

Written by Stuart McLennan

On a night out in Belgrade there’s a good chance you will spend time visiting the bars, restaurants and cafes of Dorcol.

It’s Belgrade’s equivalent of Newtown (Sydney), Shoreditch (London) or Ancoats (Manchester). The magazine ‘Time Out’ listed Dorcol in the Top 50 coolest neighbourhoods in the world for 2019.

When rugby league returned to Serbia in 2001, after an enforced hiatus, Dorcol entered a team in the Championship and went on to win 11 premierships in a row matching the feat of the St George Dragons club in Sydney.

However, in 2012 a split occurred followed by a few twists and turns before the Dorcol Tigrovi were formed in a merger of the Dorcol Spiders and the Tasmajdan Tigers seven years later.

Tigrovi President, team Captain and Serbia international Stefan Nikolic takes up the story for Everything Rugby League.

“In 2012 a large group of players left Dorcol Spiders, unhappy with the way the club and the Federation were going.

“(The) level of our game was growing fast, but everything else was standing still. We formed Tasmajdan Tigers, and after a year on the sidelines we started competing in 2014.

“The year on the sidelines almost broke everything apart, we lost some big names like Soni Radovanovic and others who moved on with their lives away from rugby league, so our champion ambitions had to wait.

“In 2016 we didn’t have enough players to finish the season, so the club was put on hold, and I went on to play for Red Star until mid 2019 when I came back to the new looking Dorcol Tigers.”

Stefan Nikolic Serbia Rugby League

A big influence on the club reforming was former player and now Head Coach Dalibor Vukanovic for whom Nkolic has the utmost respect and admiration.

“There were a lot of steps and pieces in the past 8 years for this to happen, but the finish line started to appear at the beginning of the season 2019 when I received the word that Dalibor Vukanovic, the greatest player and figure of Serbian rugby league to date, wants to leave Dorcol Spiders and abandon rugby league for good.

“At that moment he was the club’s captain-coach and what we like to say – the guru of Dorcol rugby league. I was playing for Red Star, just finished the first ever Challenge Cup experience for a Serbian club, but my heart was at Dorcol. With Dalibor gone, the greatest club in Serbia was about to crack, so I gave him a call.

“Because I left the club with a large group of players in 2012, we had our differences, but Dalibor knew my passion for rugby league and started opening up. All of the Spiders players wanted to quit rugby league. There is no Dorcol without Dalibor, they said.

Dorcol Rugby League team shot

“Everything I wanted for Dorcol, I had with Red Star. While I was there, I said more than 10 times that my dreams are coming true. I had a full-time job to do what I was doing anyway with my life, promoting the game I love in all sorts of ways, and we got some bonuses paid for playing.

“The Challenge Cup experience was once in a lifetime, contacts with big name players and coaches I thought I was only going to see on my computer.

“Working with Phil Economidis, the man who coached Preston Campbell in the NRL. Those are the things I was dreaming about.

“I left the club (Red Star) because I love Dorcol. Dorcol is my home, I felt I had a lot to give back to the club and the time was now.”

It was the Dorcol youth team that proved to be a shining light in 2020 after a 24-20 victory over Red Star in the Serbian Under 19s Championship final.

The club has a strong focus on junior development with an eye to the future, something the Dorcol captain fully supports.

“If we want the game to grow, if we want to rise up the ladder of our playing abilities we need to have a strong youth system.

“So far we as a nation aimed for the high school boys, so they can transfer to the senior team in a couple of years, rather than getting them to start at a young age from where they become experienced players come first grade time. Only then you can have your halves, fullbacks and hookers that truly know their game,” said Nikolic who is known for his superior playing skills as a hooker or in the halves.

“The wheels of fortune always turn. In 2011 Dorcol were 11 in a row, and if you asked me, I would say that Dorcol will be champions for another 10, but… Partizan 1953 came very close this season, not because a bunch of players left Red Star, but purely based on their hard work.

“I have honestly never seen a more talented and more close group of players than our under 19s and I’m sure we can lead the way. Some experienced players are coming back, our veterans support us and we will try to lead the young boys all the way.”

Dorcol Rubgy League blue

As they strive to reignite the club’s past success, Dorcol continues to enjoy the support of the locals in their vibrant home district.

“On the weekend, together with the locals, we organized a farewell party for one of the most famous Serbian singers Dzej, at our stadium. Hundreds of flairs were lit to say goodbye to one of the biggest Dorcol legends. It’s the people we grew up with.

“The Dorcol vibe is the heart and soul of the club. Famous rappers from the area support us, local beer breweries and a lot of other good people.”

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