Written by Stuart McLennan
Albanian client service operator Arnaldo Telo has a passion for rugby league. That love has gone to the next level after the Greek Rugby League Association confirmed the inclusion of Albania’s capital team Tirana, to the upcoming domestic season in September.
The addition of Tirana brings the number of teams to eight, and will see travel increase across the competition.
“I enjoy everything related to rugby league,” said the big forward who has been playing the game since Tirana switched from rugby union in 2017.
“First of all the rugby league community in Albania is much like a second family, we do everything together, even things that are not related with rugby league, we share our struggles and try to overcome them together. It is sort of like the game itself, we do everything like a team, the support for each other has always been there.
“Being the only rugby league team in Albania we have travelled a lot in this last four years, across the Balkans. travelling is always difficult, but it is an unforgettable time with your teammates, filled with moments that define you as a person and player and I think that everyone that has done the same, has unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.”
It was a Balkan Super League match in 2018 that forged the rugby league connections between Greece and Albania when the Attica Rhinos travelled to play Tirana in a match won 24-20 by the Rhinos in front of a large and vocal crowd.
The friendships made as a result of that game led to Telo playing a match in Athens where he experienced a first hand insight into the Greek competition.
“I had the pleasure to be invited to Athens by my friends from Attica Rhinos and played with them against Rhodes Knights (good memories) and experienced the level of play myself.
“I’d say that it was what I was expecting to be sincere. Both teams have very talented players, and the game itself was very fast and physical. From what we have seen Athens Raiders, AEK, Larisa, Aris and Patras are tough teams as well.
“We know our weaknesses, but in rugby league determination is stronger than that, and I expect with each team that we play against, to reach their level solely through sheer determination and a competitive spirit.”
Telo is confident that playing regularly against more experienced teams in Greece will help develop the sport in Albania.
“In my opinion the quality of the teams in Greece is increasing day by day and this is what we want to achieve, to learn and elevate our game level alongside the other teams.
“For rugby league in Albania, I am hoping that Tirana’s participation in the Greek domestic competition will ignite a spark within our country, in other cities too. The interest is there but we need to show that everything is possible, and that rugby league is now slowly establishing itself in Albania.
“Three young players from Tirana, who have also represented Albania, have been selected to go and play in the United Kingdom. There, they will receive first-class coaching and play for quality amateur sides in the United Kingdom. They will then return to Albania with more skills and knowledge and help with domestic development.”
From a personal perspective it is about enjoying the experience while the 31 year old still has time left as a player.
“Until I can still run or tackle and be helpful for my team, I will be on the pitch. New players need to work hard. I am trying to push my retirement out as much as possible, and I am putting in a good fight to manage my injuries and keep playing. I would like to see everyone fight for their position in the team.”
“I am still enjoying rugby league more than ever before because it is an exciting time for rugby league in general.”