Written by Stuart McLennan
Photo by Ankara Phrygians Women's
When the Turkish Rugby League domestic competition commenced on Christmas Day in 2016 there were five clubs. Four from Istanbul and one from Eskisehir.
Last season that number had grown to ten across the country while four teams contested the newly formed women’s championship.
A brand new club from Turkey’s capital city, the Ankara Phrygians, not only made their competition debut last year they made the final of both the men’s and women’s competitions. A remarkable achievement any way you look at it.
Ankara’s captain and one of the founders of the club Kemal Ege was pleased but not surprised by Ankara’s instant success after he brought together rugby union players keen to try the other rugby code.
“This (finals appearance) was a target at the beginning. We knew that we were new in rugby league, but our union background made it possible to dream about two finals. All in all, we enjoyed, we learned, we became aware that we can do better and we have also seen that we can help Turkish Rugby League to reach higher levels,” Ege told Everything Rugby League.
“It was mainly about Ankara based rugby players decision to take part in rugby league due to Turkish Rugby League Association`s (TRLA’s) growing organisational success.
“Ankara is probably the most successful city in Turkish Rugby and me, Fede and Harold of ODTU Rugby, plus Alperen who is the captain of Hacettepe Rugby, thought that Ankara should use its potential in rugby league too.
“Ankara based women rugby players followed with the same idea and we came together to represent Ankara under the same colors.”
The men’s team will crank it up another level when they enter the second division of the Balkan Super League (BSL) in 2019 after fellow Turkish club, the Kadikoy Bulls, made the semifinals of the BSL in 2018.
The BSL will commence on the weekend of 6/7 April. Fourteen clubs from eight countries, split into two divisions will contest the rapidly expanding competition now in its third year of existence.
“Balkan Super League is the next big target for us. We hope that international club rugby league will be permanent in Ankara thanks to our presence in BSL.”
While the city’s population of 5.4 million provides potential for larger rugby league participation, Ege would like to see the Phrygians remain as the elite team in the capital while also creating feeder and development clubs at the local level.
“Our priority is to remain as the only franchise/super-club in Ankara for national and international competitions and create and support feeder teams playing in the local level.
“I think that this would also fit TRLA`s growth strategy in Turkey as they are also planning to push for a concise-compact national competition.”
TRLA Development Manager and one of the driving forces behind the creation of a rugby league competition in Turkey, Julien Treu, believes that Ankara is important strategically for the growth of the sport in the country.
“The fact Ankara created their first rugby league has been a major success for Rugby league in Turkey. There is a massive potential in Ankara with many universities, big population and a rugby culture.
“?t was also important to have a representative of rugby league in the capital, this is why we took time to go support them as much as we could in terms of planning, training, courses etc.
“We’ve always believed the road of expansion of Rugby League in Turkey passes by Ankara.”
While Turkey Rugby League continues to grow locally, the international side has not been overlooked. Treu outlines what will be a full calendar of activities in 2019.
“We are still working on a finalised plan for 2019 which will include 9s tournaments, two beach rugby league tournaments and international games with Greece and Great Britain Lionhearts.
“We will host the 2019 Rugby League European Federation congress in Istanbul.
“We also applied for women’s World Cup qualification and are planning to have international games in Australia by the end of the year.
“This is a very challenging and exciting program for Turkey. We are therefore very optimistic for the expansion of the game locally.”
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