HomeSportsRugby League World Cup: Greece look to future after historic journey just...

Rugby League World Cup: Greece look to future after historic journey just to play tournament in England ends

Greece player Adam Vrahnos with a supporter after the defeat to England

On the face of it, Greece’s record from their first Rugby League World Cup appearance of played three, lost three, with a points difference of minus 180 after a 94-4 defeat to hosts England in their last group match, does not exactly look the mark of success.

The old aphorism about lies, damned lies, and statistics rings true here though, because what will come back home just by them being here at this year’s global gathering is a success which cannot be measured by numbers alone.

For evidence of that, see the viral social media video of fans celebrating the team’s first World Cup try while watching the match against France in a bar in Athens – something which would have been unimaginable when the Greeks were being forced to play home qualifiers for this tournament at midnight and behind closed doors due to the sport being outlawed in the country.

But with the Greek Rugby League Federation finally granted government recognition in July this year the governing body can now press ahead with plans to grow the game. That is much to the delight of head coach Steve Georgallis, who had dedicated two decades to the cause.

“I just want rugby league to become part of Greece,” Georgallis, who has been coach of the national team since they were formed in 2003, said. “I grew up playing rugby league; my father went to Australia when he was young, and I got to know the game as a child in schools and then played it as I got older.

“Then I went back to Greece, and I thought ‘the Greeks are built to play this game’, then we started with the heritage players and then got to Greece and the journey started with introducing it there.

“But now, with the World Cup and the game being legal in Greece, we’re hoping to get into the schools, communities, and start from the grassroots.”

I just want rugby league to become part of Greece.

Greece head coach Steve Georgallis

The ambitions of Georgallis, whose playing career included spells in this country with Carlisle, Wakefield Trinity and Warrington Wolves and combines his role with that of assistant coach at NRL side Canterbury Bulldogs, are shared by the players in his squad too.

Among those is Greece captain Jordan Meads, who qualifies through his grandparents and has been a key member of the team since scoring six tries on his debut against the Czech Republic in 2014.

The one-time Newcastle Thunder half-back has been there through the turbulent times too, but is eager to move on from the team being just a compelling story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to make the World Cup.

“We’ll never forget our journey, but we’re keen to shed that victim mentality and really push forward with rugby league in Greece and I can’t wait to be a part of it,” Meads said.

Greece captain Jordan Meads wants to play a role in growing the sport in the country

Greece captain Jordan Meads wants to play a role in growing the sport in the country

“I know for every single player this wasn’t just a month’s holiday. They were all in it for the cause and we can’t wait to see what the next couple of years looks like.

“We’ve got the right people at the top here and Georgie is a phenomenal human who puts his money where his mouth is.

“He could have quite easily picked 24 Australian Greeks, but he decided not to and we want to be true to our DNA and I couldn’t be more proud of the boys.”

In total, Georgallis selected eight players from Greece’s domestic competition, with clubs Rhodes Knights, Aris Eagles and Attica Rhinos all represented.

Of those, Ioannis Rousoglou, Ioannis Nake, Konstantinos Katsidonis and Theodoris Nianiakas all featured against England at Bramall Lane and the 54-year-old knows there will be multiple benefits from them being part of the World Cup.

“The importance of it is those domestic players go back to Greece and say ‘I’ve represented my country at rugby league, it’s a great sport and this is the enjoyment you’ll get out of it,'” Georgallis said.

“The people in Greece will see that and they won’t just think it’s another heritage team. That was one of the most important things – and they can play on a stage against some of the world’s best players.

“What they’ve learned here and the coaching they’ve got, they’ll take that back. Some of them are probably towards retirement age…so they’ll go back to coaching and the cycle will continue.

Siteni Taukamo gave Greece something to cheer about against England with a first-half try

Siteni Taukamo gave Greece something to cheer about against England with a first-half try

“That’s the most important part about playing your domestic players, and then it becomes a true team coming from the country where you want it to kick off.”

Although they ultimately ended up being overwhelmed by England in Sheffield, Greece were well in the contest early on and crafted a first-half try through Siteni Taukaumo on the back of building pressure on the try-line on the back of a set restart and a repeat set of six tackles after recovering the ball from a charged-down kick.

There was a small but significant contingent of Greek supporters among the crowd too, with many of the around 18,000 spectators showing their appreciation for the team and their efforts throughout the competition at full time.

“It was a phenomenal experience for our boys,” Meads said. “We didn’t want to just participate in this competition, and I thought we had moments of excellence in all three games.

England and Greece players posed for a picture at full-time

England and Greece players posed for a picture at full-time

“We came to shock against England and I felt for the first 20 minutes we were right in the game, but then you blink and you’re down 30 points.

“I’m just so proud of our boys; we’ve got the best coach in the competition here and this is just the start for rugby league in Greece. We’ll be back and it’s sad it’s all over for us, but what an experience.”

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