When Greece centre Rania Koutsikou crossed the tryline in Edirne, Turkey in September 2019 she went down in the record books as the first points scorer for the national women’s rugby league team.
Continuing that adventurous spirit, Rania and three other members (Pinelopi Maroufidi, Chrysi Limperidi and Maria Maksoudi) from the first Greek international women’s team that played against Turkey moved to Pontypridd, Wales last year to study, linking up with the Rhondda Outlaws rugby league club. The substantial Greek contingent was boosted by another rugby friend Angela Papastathatou and Rania’s partner Nik.
Koutsikou and her Greek team mates represent Aris Eagles RL and the Panathinaikos rugby club in Athens. With a genuine passion for the rugby codes, the move to Wales was an obvious progression.
“When I was in Greece, my everyday life had to do with rugby,” Koutsikou explained to Everything Rugby League
“One day I just woke up and I decided that I have to follow my passion. I did not want just to play abroad but I actually wanted to broaden my knowledge around rugby and sports science in general. I had been searching a lot and I found this course at the University of South Wales. It is unique, so I started to plan with the others how we are going to move in Wales.
“Studying at USW was one of the best choices I have ever made to be honest. My course is amazing, we study strength and conditioning, performance analysis and of course everything that has to do with rugby coaching based on the physical education area. Because of the nature of this course, it gave us the chance to test our knowledge in real life and currently we are coaches for a local team.”
When the ladies arrived in Wales, they met Welsh women’s rugby league team captain Shaunni Davies who plays with the Rhondda Outlaws club.
“Shaunni, James the men’s coach and in general the team really helped us to feel at home in Wales and we are truly thankful. The Outlaws are a lovely rugby club, they are like a family, the training sessions are well organised and always very interesting and joyful. We have many talented players in our squad, and it is always a great experience for me to train and play by their side” said Rania whose partner, Greek international Nikolas Stephanou, is also playing for Rhondda with the men’s side.
The Rhondda Outlaws were founded in 2015 and the women’s side was put together in the summer of 2019 to see what the interest would be in South Wales for rugby league. The women’s game has gone from strength to strength with Wales playing an international match against England recently broadcast by Sky Sports.
Rhondda Outlaws coach James Allen is clearly very appreciative when asked what the Greek contingent have brought to the Pontypridd based club on and off the field.
“The Greek ladies have added massively to our club, not just the ladies team. With their skills and experience on the field and helping film games and supporting the club on match days off the field. We have also noticed the difference with their love and passion for their culture from dance to bbq’s that they have brought to the club, boosting morale and adding to the general happiness surrounding the club.
“They are very well liked at the club, very good people with passion for sport and development and we hope to have them for many years to come,” Allen said.
In the same way Koutsikou deals with sporting challenges she approached the move and associated language and cultural differences with a positive mindset.
“The majority of people in Greece start learning English at a young age so it wasn’t such a big deal. Of course, the real challenge, surprisingly, is not so much the academic language but the everyday one, when you have to give an immediate response or to understand some local accents. I believe we are all getting better.
“The big difference in Wales is definitely the fact that there are many people who are in charge and can manage, coach and organise a team. It is very important because in Greece players have to be coaches, managers and everything at the same time. Here you can just show up and enjoy rugby. You do not really have to worry if you are going to find, for example, a proper field to play your next game, which is a big issue in Greece. I hope one day it will be the same for us in Greece.
“It’s really precious that I have experienced coaches that can help you be a better player and it is amazing the fact that I am amongst players that are really skilful and more experienced. You have to keep up and follow them and, in the end, learn from them as well. That will definitely help me to be a better player and I’m hoping a better coach in future as well for women’s rugby in Greece and work hard to reach the level that I am experiencing here.”