Written by Stuart McLennan
Photo by Aris Dardamanis (left) Nikos Bosmos (right) GLRA
The Greek Rugby League Association (GRLA) will stage a combined Athens versus Rest of Greece ‘Origin’ game in the lead in to the national side’s must win 2021 World Cup qualifier in London.
The representative match, to be held in Athens on February 15, will serve as a selection trial for Greece’s clash with Norway in three months time.
At least thirteen players from the domestic competition will be chosen to represent their country following the inaugural contest in the capital.
The Combined Athens team will be selected from the Aris Eagles and Attica Rhinos clubs currently sitting second and third respectively on the domestic competition table. Undefeated reigning premiers Rhodes Knights will have a large presence in the Rest of Greece side. They will be joined by players from the two newest clubs in Greece, Larissa and Patras.
The State of Origin concept has been hugely successful for rugby league in Australia. City versus Country matches have also been held previously as selection fixtures.
GRLA President George Stilianos said the purpose of the ‘Origin’ game is to get all the best players together, see how they combine with players from other teams and to give everyone an equal chance at national team selection.
“They (the players) are excited about it. We’ve not really done anything like this before. It is especially the fringe national team players, or those that have narrowly missed out on selection in the past that are the most eager for this match to happen,” Stilianos told Neos Kosmos.
One player eagerly awaiting the match is Athens co-captain Aris Dardamanis. Dardamanis has been playing since 2014 which makes him a veteran in Greek rugby league terms. The competition commenced in the Hellenic Republic in 2013.
After playing five matches for his nation, Dardamanis is hungry for more and the Aris Eagles half back will be looking to make the most of his opportunity in the selection trial.
He is confident the Athens versus Rest of Greece match will benefit both the sport and the players in Greece.
“It’s an opportunity especially for the new boys to play a high level game. It is a push for them to try reach their very best with guys they normally play against and who now we will be in the same team. It is our State of Origin game,” said Dardamanis who will jointly captain the Athens team with Johny Nake from the Attica Rhinos. .
The two Athens clubs are strong rivals having played out some fierce battles over the last few years.
Dardamanis said that rivalry had been set aside recently as the squad trains together to prepare for the match.
“It is awesome. It is great to train with another team. You see different speeds and skills in the same drills sometimes so I think this is only good. You upgrade yourself with these mixed trainings.”
The prize for the players that stand out in the Athens versus Rest of Greece will be a trip to London to play Norway at New River Stadium on May 18.
To say Dardamanis is excited about the prospect of once again representing his country in England would be an understatement.
“To play on a proper rugby league field, what else could i ask for?” Dardamanis said referring to the adapted football fields that serve as rugby venues in Greece.
“Having the opportunity to represent my nation in a game that will help decide our World Cup inclusion, it is just going to be my personal very best moment.
“If you also think about what we are going through here in Greece with all this situation, wearing the blue and white once more is like a painkiller.
“It’s the absolute moment for an athlete. The absolute moment. The highest level.”
Stilianos is careful not to appear “too confident” about the team’s prospects against Norway, a side he believes deserves a lot of respect, but he has faith that Greece, who will draw heavily on domestic players, can get the job done.
“This is an historic match for so many reasons, it’s the furthest both nations have ever gone in the qualifiers, and it also happens to be the first time the two have ever met in a rugby league match.
“We have great respect for Norway and expect it to be a tough match. I believe if we show the same determination we showed in the 2018 matches, especially the narrow two point victory in Ukraine, that we can win this one too. “
Stilianos would like see the Greek ‘Origin’ match continue beyond 2019 and become an important part of the domestic rugby league calendar.
“If it can be done, we’d like to have it on an annual basis. Because there is so much travel involved in our competition already, this makes one extra trip. Players are coming in from four different parts of Greece, so it’s not an easy match to organise, but since it’s only once a year, I believe we can make it happen.”
The Athens Combined team will play an additional match in Athens against the Heavy Woollen, an Under 23s representative team from the Dewsbury area in the United Kingdom, on March 15.
Disclosure: The writer is Head Coach at the Aris Eagles club in Athens and will jointly coach the Athens Combined team along with Steph Siozos from the Attica Rhinos.
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