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After a few unsuccessful attempts Everything Rugby League eventually connected with Steve Georgallis. The affable Greek coach is in Rhodes where he is visiting family and running training sessions after spending some time on the island of Tilos where his father was born.
“We’ve had two or three black outs here,” Georgallis explains in the same unfazed manner he has approached all the well documented struggles endured by rugby league in Greece.
Last year was arguably the finest in the sport’s relatively short history in Greece with the Government officially recognising rugby league as a legal sport and the national men’s team participating in the World Cup.
The joy and excitement generated by these events in 2022 has been tempered by an official announcement by the International Rugby League this year that the number of teams for the next World Cup in 2026 will be reduced from 16 to 10 and nations need to be full International Rugby League members to qualify. Greece is currently an affiliate member and is taking steps to attain full membership.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow. How do you develop the game if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel in relation to a world championship or a world cup competition?
“Hopefully, we’re still involved with qualifying processes next year or the year after that. It was a massive high to be in the World Cup and a great achievement from everyone involved; staff, players, people in Greece, people in Australia. Then to realise that it’s so difficult to make it again, I suppose it’s sort of the highs and lows of rugby league.
“I think the most important benefits that came out of the World Cup was the domestic players being able to come back to Greece and promote the game in the communities and getting a strong, domestic comp so that we can meet the criteria for (full) membership. Trying to get to the schools and to get junior development programs started is a very big task.
Georgallis will head to Athens and run another open training session, something that former Bulldogs and Castleford player Billy Tsikrekas has also been doing to develop the game in the homeland.
Of particular interest will be the opening round of the Greek domestic competition featuring eight of the nine teams contesting the men’s championships this season.
The coach will run his eye over the players involved with the aim of picking around 12 domestic players to add to seven heritage players that will fly in for the upcoming matches against Ukraine in Athens on 28 October and Norway away on 4 November.
Greece World Cup captain Jordan Meads will resume his role after he announced a short lived retirement immediately after the tournament.
“Jordan wasn’t happy with his World Cup campaign and he’s got the rugby league bug again. When I spoke to him he was super keen to play and looking fitter. He’s been a great part of Greek rugby league. I don’t mind giving him that opportunity again because I think he himself was disappointed in the way the World Cup went and it’s not the way you want to go out. So that swayed him to come out of retirement.
“These upcoming matches are a massive opportunity for our domestic players to represent their country. While we know the ones who have made the national team before, there may be a few new faces pop up as there have been one or two retirements. Unless they (retirees) show up and play on Sunday,” Georgallis says with a laugh.
“I’m expecting a very tough game against Ukraine. To be honest we only just beat them last time we played them. What they have been through over the last few years is likely to give them a lot of resolve and and national spirit”
“We are also looking forward to going to Norway as we have never been there before and it will be good to experience the culture. We know they will also be tough playing on their home soil.”
As it always has been for Georgallis and his colleagues the major goal is development of the sport within Greece and he says the next few years will be crucial.
“For rugby league in Greece it took a long hard road to get where we are now but we need to stay with it and run off the back of the achievements of making the World Cup and playing in a World Cup. The next four or five years will either make or break rugby league here regardless of what’s happening. Internationally. We’re going to have to continue to grow the game and get as many people playing and kids involved as possible for the full membership.”
Greece will play Ukraine at 3pm on 28 October at Goudi Municipal Stadium and the following day, 29 October at Gkorytsa Stadium, Aspropyrgos (kick off 4pm) in Athens and Norway in Sandnes on 4 November. >