It’s hard to take the smile off the face of Mitchell Zampetides.
The dreadlocked second-rower might be nursing an injury, which took him out of Greece’s World Cup match against Samoa, but that matters not. The Aussie-Greek is part of the Titans charge at this tournament and is enjoying the ride.
For 11 years Zampedites has been involved with the Greek team, part of the ups and downs of rugby league in the European country. Now he is playing in his and Greece’s first-ever World Cup.
Born and raised in Australia’s biggest city, the forward qualifies for the Titans through his father.
“My Dad’s Greek, I’m half Greek,” he explains to Everything Rugby League.
“His parents migrated to Newcastle from Athens. I grew up in the Hills district of Sydney. I’ve just been playing local footy there for a few clubs.
“Nothing as high a level of some of these guys, but Ron Massey Cup. I only started playing rugby league at 21 actually. The next year I got a call from Terry Liberopoulos (team manager), so it’s all happened pretty fast. I’ve been playing ever since.”
Zampetides debuted for Greece more than a decade ago.
“11 years I’ve been involved, yeah it’s been a long one,” he says.
“2012 was my first game for Greece against Vanuatu and back then I got the call from Terry and I didn’t even know there was a Greek team. I thought it was a gee up.
“But it’s been a long time coming. We’ve had a few problems six, seven years ago with some internal issues, so it’s been a long time coming. But to get on to that field against France was a dream come true.”
Zampetides played 61 minutes against the French, making 31 tackles and 20 metres. Greece might have lost the game in Doncaster but caught the eye with two great tries and never gave in against experienced, full-time opposition.
“We’ve got a never-say-die attitude, being Greeks,” he says.
“That’s just the way we are. It was a good Test for us, against France. They’re obviously quality opposition. They’re all full-timers. We definitely have the talent to play a bit of footy.
Zampetides, who installs and repairs water and gas piping systems for a job back in Sydney, has connected with his Greek heritage by playing for the Titans and made his family proud.
He admits it has been “surreal” playing alongside the likes of NRL stars such as Lachlan Illias.
“My Dad was the standard wogboy at school, he didn’t really own up to being too Greek,” the 32-year-old explains.
“But with me now playing for Greece he’s been super proud, so has my mum and everyone. It’s really brought that Greek heritage back to life at home.”
“I’m a plumber, I was fortunate to get some time off and come out here. Half the boys in the team have full-time jobs, all the bosses have been good enough to give us some time off as it’s once in a lifetime.
“It’s a bit surreal.”
Greece take on the might of hosts England in Sheffield this weekend.
They might end the tournament with another defeat, but just by getting to the World Cup has been a huge step forward for rugby league in the Hellenic Republic, which until July was illegal.
Zampetides is confident the sport in Greece can now go from strength to strength.
“We’re getting more domestic teams year by year, that’s growing really fast,” he says.
On this day in 2013…
Hungary 🇭🇺🆚🇬🇷 Greece in Budapest. pic.twitter.com/qLsovgh4iZ
— Greek Rugby League Federation (@GreekRL) October 27, 2022
“This World Cup has put us on the map. So everyone’s realising that we’re here.
“The Greek boys here will take this World Cup experience back to Greece and their clubs and hopefully they can pass that knowledge on to all the domestic boys over there and just keep growing.”