Written by Stuart McLennan
Photo by Tuliatu second on the left, Kartsonakis far right
Food outlets around Stebonheath Park – home to the West Wales Raiders rugby league team – might consider putting souvlaki on their menus after the club recruited two Greek international rugby league players to the squad for the upcoming season.
Utility forward Robert Tuliatu and fullback Dimos Kartsonakis will make the Welsh town of Llanelli their home this month as they commence pre-season training.
Both players represented Greece recently in the 2018 Emerging Nations World Championship in Sydney and 2021 World Cup qualifier victories against Ukraine and Malta in Europe earlier this year.
Tuliatu, who grew up in Australia and has a Greek mother and Samoan father, recently returned from a successful tour of South Africa with the Australian Universities rugby league side.
He is looking forward to living in Wales and escaping the hot Aussie summer.
“I wanted to utilise the opportunity the game is providing to live abroad and experience a new environment. I’m also looking forward to exploring more of Wales. It is a beautiful country and I am hoping to get to know it and its people,” Tuliatu told Everything Rugby League
“I would trade Australia’s extreme hot for Wales extreme cold any day of the year. I am hoping that with the cooler weather, I can get a few more minutes on the paddock.”
Twenty three year old Kartsonakis began playing rugby league as a teenager on the Greek holiday island of Rhodes with the local Knights team. He becomes just the second domestically produced Greek player to take up a professional contract after Stefanos Bastas turned out for the Hemel Stags in League One last season.
Like Tuliatu, Kartsonakis is very excited about the opportunity but is at odds with his team mate regarding the colder weather.
“I took the opportunity with the West Wales Raiders because I’ve been watching the club the last season through hard times and I loved how the players and the fans kept supporting and loving it through all the difficulties they had. Everyone knows how friendly and warm Welsh people are.”
“The cold weather is a main part of my struggles, especially when you are coming from a country like Greece, and the island of Rhodes where the sun shines 300 days a year.”
The two Greek internationals, who will live together in the same house along with Aussie recruit Elliott Jennings have become firm friends since they played together in 2017.
“Dimosthenes and I met late 2017 when we played for Greece together. I am thrilled that he’s been given the chance to play at a higher level, and there are few players in Greece who deserve it as much. He’s got all the uncoachable skills; keenness, willingness to listen and learn, enthusiasm. I expect Dimos to have a big season,” Tuliatu said enthusiastically.
When asked about playing alongside his110kg mate in the squad, Kartsonakis said “That’s something huge for me just thinking that I have someone to speak with if I’m struggling about something, plus I know his playing type so this could help us combine for something positive through the game.”
After finishing without a win and the wooden spoon last season, West Wales with newly appointed Australian coach Kim Williams have embarked on a concerted recruitment effort that has so far landed quality players from Australia, France and Greece, as well as UK talent. The club recently announced the signing of Scotland A international Sam Herron from Red Star Belgrade.
“As a Head Coach I am always looking for talented players from all around the world. I have a strong network of rugby league people who keep me informed of emerging players who might be looking for an opportunity to play at a higher level or challenge themselves in a new environment,” Williams explained to Everything Rugby League.
“It’s a deliberate strategy that has proven to be successful for me in the past.
“I have been in contact with Rob Tuliatu for almost six months now and have followed his progression through the Greek National team and the Australian University team.
“Rob tipped me off about Dimos and I have watched his performances with interest throughout the World Cup qualifiers and the recent Emerging Nations tournament. Rob is a great ball-runner with an excellent off-load and I also expect him to be a leader amongst our playing group.
“Dimos brings great energy and enthusiasm to our squad and I expect significant improvement from him over the next 12 months.”
Kartsonakis, who has already made the journey over to Wales, admits the first few days away from his Greek island home were difficult and he is thankful for the support he has received from the club so far.
“I’ve been in Llanelli for 10 days. I have literally packed my life to come here. People here are very friendly and it’s a quiet and beautiful town. It was really hard for me the first 4-5 days and this is where I should say a huge thank you to the chairman of the club Andrew Thorne and the coach Kim Williams for helping me organise my new life here and being next to me whenever I had difficulties.”
Williams expects Tuliatu to show his leadership qualities when he joins the club this week.
“Robert’s experience will be a real asset to our side in 2019. He will be expected to be a leader both on and off the field and I am looking forward to working with a player of his calibre.”
For his part Tuliatu has expectations of playing a faster more open style of rugby league in the League One competition than he left in Australia where he played with Asquith in the Ron Massey Cup last season.
“I am expecting it to be a very different style of footy; which is another attraction to playing in the UK. I expect it to be a little bit less refined than league in Australia; faster rucks, more 1 on 1 tackles, more expansive backline. All of which should make it a free-flowing and entertaining way of rugby league.”
Williams is confident that West Wales will have more success in 2019 and beyond based on shrewd recruitment and hard work.
“The goals for the West Wales Raiders for this season are based around improving our Club culture and gaining respect in the League One competition. I believe I have recruited a competitive squad that can win games if we are willing to work hard and believe in each other.
“We have a great nucleus of Welsh players and we now have an exciting mix of imports to balance out the team. We also have a group of 10 of our best 17-19 year olds training with the top squad so we can fast-track their development and ensure the clubs future is in good hands.”