Written by Stuart McLennan
This time 12 months ago Aris Dardamanis from Kypseli was soaking in the grandeur of Buckingham Palace and shaking hands with the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, accompanied by rugby league royalty.
It was Harry’s first official appearance after he and Megan announced they were stepping away from senior Royal Family duties. An estimated 30 million people followed the first ever public Rugby League World Cup draw covering the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments. The draw was a resounding public relations success.
Dardamanis describes the event as a “lifetime experience” reflecting that the significance didn’t hit him until he entered the Palace and the ceremony started.
“We walked from the hotel through Hyde Park with (rugby league) legends from all over the globe like Honey Hireme from New Zealand, Rhyse Martin from Papua New Guinea and Leeds Rhinos and Konrad Hurrell from Tonga and Leeds Rhinos,” the Greek international explained to Everything Rugby League.
“We entered the Palace following strict rules and waited in a large hall in which I can’t remember how many paintings and the carpets and all these things looked like I was actually in a museum. (Dual England international) Jason Robinson was there for the draw with Prince Harry.
“Prince Harry shook hands with representatives from each country and had a little chat. I was surprised how keen he was to be hanging out with us.
“We of course had been asked earlier not to mention anything about the situation in the Royal Family so even if I wanted to advise the Duke of Sussex to get out of there, I knew I couldn’t (laughs).
“He (Prince Harry) said he was surprised that Greece made it to the final round and as a fan of the sport he was excited and looking forward to watching our games.”
The central suburb of Kypseli was voted in Time Out magazine as the ‘coolest neighbourhood in Athens’ in 2019 however it wasn’t always that way for the Aris Eagles captain who came from a martial arts background before he discovered rugby league. .
“My area was second after Tokyo (for population density) with 14 people per square metre living there so it was crowded and there were a lot of problems with stealing and stabbing with knives or even shooting sometimes. I was robbed twice with the threat of a knife. So a kid may have dreams, but meeting with a Prince was definitely way out there.”
Having drawn England, France and Samoa in Pool A at the World Cup, any Greece victory would constitute a major upset however Aris can see the plus side.
“I was hoping to have England in our pool because we would definitely have a full stadium in our game. Imagine that.
“We will face professional players that we watch on videos, Luai, Tapau, Nofoaluma, Hodgson, George Williams, Ratchford, Anthony Marion maybe from Toulouse and Rhys Curran who moved to London Broncos. Samoa and England have very good sides.
“After playing against Scotland for the qualifiers and the way we played, I know we will stand up against them pretty well. The level in the Greece championship is getting better and better so the whole world cup experience will make us even better.”
With at least eight domestic players to be included in the Greek World Cup squad Dardamanis, (7 international caps), will do everything he can to make the trip to England.
“How couldn’t you be excited about the World cup and how can you not have a goal to be there.
“When I was a kid I collected stickers of football stars and had posters of them, and now there is a chance of being part of a World Cup – trust me I will make my effort count and the coaches choice even harder than they think, in a good competitive way of course.
“I also train my team the Aris Eagles and have some boys from my roster who I believe will step onto the field and that will also make me very proud. We have sacrificed a lot to even play rugby league in Greece.
“I try to chat with our teammates in Australia who play professional (rugby league) like Billy Magoulias for the Sharks or Peter Mamouzelos for Rabbitohs or our Captain Jordan Meads who plays and coaches the Beerwah Bulldogs. I get feedback or drills that I am able to run on my own.”
Greece is currently in Covid lockdown and the local competition has been suspended making it very difficult for Dardamanis and his domestic colleagues to prepare for 2021 World Cup selection.
“To get out of your house you need to send a text message and only for specific reasons like going to the supermarket, walking your dog or running outdoors with one other person and only in your area. Gyms are closed.
“Most of my teammates live in different areas, so there is no chance to meet for training, (training with a ball in your hands is forbidden if you are more than two – no contact). 2021 is the World Cup year and yes at the moment we cannot prepare the way we would like to, the way I would like to.”