Rugby league clubs in Greece have returned to training and an additional club- Lamia – has emerged following on from the establishment of the Perama Tigers last year.
Greek Rugby League President George Stilianos told Everything Rugby League there had been little activity apart from sporadic training sessions when restrictions permitted and the odd friendly match after the competition was forced to shut down early in 2020 due to the global pandemic
“It has been tough. It has really halted our momentum and some players may struggle to get back as they may have ‘moved on’ or lost interest as a result of the interruption. But at the same time I am confident we can also attract new players,” Stilianos said.
“There’s a feeling of excitement. People are keen to get back to it and not just to rugby league, but in general, just get their lives back to normal.”
Athens City Raiders Head Coach Christos Mouzakitis said the lockdown affected everyone’s lives and the absence of training sessions hit the players’ daily routine hard.
“Training is a getaway from their workload, problems etc for many of them in normal circumstances so you could only imagine how the lack of training and interaction with teammates severely impacted their well being in such a depressed environment.
“The eagerness and anticipation when we announced the training schedule for the new season was greater than of a child waiting for his holidays after school term.
“I was overwhelmed by the sentiment, the smiles, the loud laughs of all players when we met for the first training session and you could see their excitement touching the Steeden after such a long time!
“Unfortunately some players lost patience due to the lack of training and started a new hobby, some others moved away to different cities or even countries while searching for better personal opportunities.
“On the other hand COVID sparked a desire to live in a way that you were afraid of before, try new things, get out and have a go at new experiences due to the realisation of how fragile life is. Thus, we have a lot more new faces wanting to try rugby league and they are already hooked with the greatest game of all,” Mouzakitis said.
On the island of Rhodes, Knights Head coach and Greece Assistant Coach Michalis Chatiziioannou said it was a bit hard for the players not to be able to train when for most of them it was part of their life once.
“Thankfully the boys have a tight bond between them so that helped them keep in touch, share training ideas and analyse games. We are always talking about how we miss going on a trip and get onto the field.
“Hopefully I found a way to keep them going by giving them fitness challenges to do at home and talking about footy strategies and players positions. I believe at the end of the day that it wasn’t that much of a waste of time training wise. We will easily get to the level we were before lockdown.
“(Being) back at training was a great feeling once all the boys got together again after a while with lots of teasing and laughs.
“The (Rhodes Knights) family has grown and we now have about 15 young faces trying to learn the game and it seems they are loving it.
“We gained more players than the ones we lost. But the picture isn’t clear yet about our losses because here in Rhodes people are still very busy with work so they can’t engage in training yet.
“The boys are on fire though waiting for the first tackle,” Chatziioannou, whose Rhodes Knights are the reigning Greek domestic champions, said.
While Stilianos is pleased that two new clubs (Perama and Lamia) have emerged in trying times he won’t be pushing them to participate in the competition until they are ready.
“We do not want to put any added pressure on them. When they are ready they can start playing friendly matches. Then, if all goes well and they have a big enough squad, they can look at entering in the 2022-23 season.”
Albanian club Tirana were due to enter GRLA competition as the eighth team for the 2020-21 season before COVID-19 put a halt to their ambitions. The President is taking a pragmatic approach to when and how the club can be re-included.
“The pandemic has made it a bit tricky now. Both sides are keen for some matches, that is one thing that remains certain. The exact comp and format is a bit of an issue though. We may have to start with some one-off matches and then take it from there.”
Despite the disappointment of the 2021 World Cup postponement, it may be a blessing in disguise for the Greek domestic players (at least 8 will be selected in the squad) as it will give them time to prepare physically and mentally.
In the meantime, Stilianos and the Association will continue to plug away at achieving Government recognition and developing the sport domestically.
“The hard work continues behind the scenes for recognition and we also have a few new teams expressing interest. So we expect an exciting 12 months ahead.”