Written by Stuart McLennan
As is common for many people in rugby league development countries, Serbian Jovan Vujosevic has been a player, coach and administrator and most of all a passionate fan of our great sport.
After playing rugby union from the age of 16, Jovan tried the ‘greatest game of all’ at 23 after finding out that league was the first rugby code played in the former Yugoslavia, running between 1953 and 1964.
Rugby League was resurrected in Serbia in 2001 and suffered what Vujosevic described to Everything Rugby League as “hell, pressure and attacks by rugby union,” before totally distancing from its rival in 2007 when full development of the sport commenced.
Vujosevic played a number of international matches for Serbia in both codes before focusing on a career in rugby league administration.
After serving on the Serbia Rugby League Board and in the position of General Secretary for a few years, Jovan took on the role of Regional Director for the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) in 2007. A position he still holds. He feels immense pride in knowing that he has helped develop rugby league In Europe over the last 13 years.
First time I saw rugby league
I can’t forget that moment. Late 2000, a couple of players and me were in the apartment of my ex-coach and great teacher Dragan Pavlovic. A man from whom I learned a lot about both codes of rugby, about sports administration and about life, good behavior, morality, etc.
Dragan said to us there is a video that I want to show to you and he put a VHS tape in the VCR. He said this is rugby league or how we say in Serbia rugby 13, this was played in Serbia from 1953 to 1964, but then rugby union killed it. In some Serbian Rugby Union literature they call it the game of 13, because they don’t want to use word rugby.
We were all amazed with the video. That was the 1993 Tina Turner promotion video for the Australian Rugby League and State of Origin match. We were all fascinated and we said as one to Dragan Pavlovic, let’s bring back this to our country, this is far better than rugby union. From that day we all fell in love with rugby league.
First time I played rugby league
We kicked off the domestic competition in 2001, we made four teams from three rugby union sides from Belgrade. There was Dorcol with the first team as Dorcol and the second team as Morava. There was a team from Novi Sad and team from Krusevac. As I remember the first match was Dorcol v Morava that I played in 2001. I loved it. It was a great experience. I played a lot of matches for the Rugby Club Dorcol, a club with most of trophies in Serbia. Of the international matches, I remember the Mediterranean Cup match between Serbia and Morocco in 2004, which was played in Lebanon and a 20 all draw final result. Serbia had a whole domestic squad, Morocco with a full squad of origin players from pro and semi pro clubs from France. Serbia was led by one more person that I have great respect for and from whom I have learned a lot, John Risman.
First team followed
Leeds Rhinos was first team that I followed. I chose Leeds because of the color blue and yellow, because those are the same colors of the club where I played rugby league, Rugby Club Dorcol.
First player of any era I would pick in my dream team
Stacey Jones, ‘the little general’, he was a role model for me, I played the same position as him and I think he was one of the better playmakers in the world. He is a similar age as me. I had the opportunity to meet him while he played for the Catalan Dragons in 2006, when I was the manager of the Serbian U19 national team at the Rugby League U19 European Championship in 2006.
First non Tier 1 country I would you like to see win the World Cup
A very difficult question, I don’t think I can give a realistic answer to it. I could say that I would like to see non-traditional rugby league nations from Europe, like Italy or definitely Greece, to make a good result at the RLWC 2021.
Greece, first time participants and they can be a good role model for other European nations. I have a great deal of admiration towards Greece and the whole problem that they went through. Also because they have done a lot on the development of the domestic competition in Greece. It would be great if they win a match at the RLWC 2021.
Regarding the ladies I would like to see a good performance again from non-traditional rugby league countries, like Canada and Brasil. Also I would like to see more European countries, like Italy, Turkey, Serbia and Greece succeed and qualify in the future. To be honest the ladies game has developed very quickly in Europe and we are all very proud of this.
First thing I would change in rugby league
I must stress that there is always more than one person or better say there is a team of good people that run international rugby league and that we as sport are going in right direction. We always say in Serbia two or three heads are smarter than one.
In my eyes, perhaps the most important thing we as a sport must achieve is full membership of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). My colleagues from the IRL, RLEF and APRLC worked very hard the last few years on this with all possible obstacles in that process. I think that the rugby league fans are not aware that after full membership in GAISF, we will write a new chapter in the history of our sport. Recognition for our members will be opened by their governments, and then access to funds from the budgets of their governments, which will strengthen our members.