Five Greek Australians will join Greece’s national squad to play 2021 Rugby League World Cup qualifying matches in Europe next month.
The squad, which includes 14 players from the Greek domestic competition, will prepare to face Ukraine in Kharkiv on Saturday 8 September and Malta a week later in Athens.
Melbourne resident Terry Constantinou is one of the ‘lucky five’ heading over to Europe for the crucial matches. He spoke with Neos Kosmos about playing rugby league in Victoria, representing Greece and reacquainting himself with his heritage.
Constantinou has a slightly unusual background for a rugby league player having grown up in the Aussie Rules heartlands, however it was a different sport that first took his fancy: “I grew up in a country town called Gordon in Victoria before moving to Melbourne with the family,” the 29-year-old physical education teacher explained.
“I actually didn’t start playing rugby league till I was 15. Before then I was a pretty handy field hockey player and had mum driving me all around for training and games most nights of the week.
“My high school started a rugby league program when I was in year 10 and I thought I’d have a crack. I had always watched rugby league but never got around to playing it.”
After making his school team, Parade College in Bundoora, Constantinou was selected in the Victorian under 18s side in the same year.
“From then on I gave up hockey and it’s just been footy (rugby league) pretty much every year, making a few rep squads along the way and trying to not break my nose every season,” he says.
Constantinou represented Combined Affiliated States against England last year, prior to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, an experience he describes as “awesome” and a “once in a lifetime experience that I can tell my grandkids about.”
The Sunbury United Tigers utility player who can play centre or back row, depending on the needs of his team, thrives on the physical nature of his chosen sport.
“I just enjoy how tough it is sometimes. At the core of it, it’s putting your body on the line and digging in when games get tough.
“I’m expecting both of our games (against Ukraine and Malta) to be pretty physical.
“I know the Greek boys have been training pretty hard over there and fitness is going to play a big part. I think skill under fatigue is probably going to be the determining factor in both games.”
After making his debut for the Greece side alongside his younger brother Matt against Hungary in 2013, Constantinou is excited about reuniting with the Greek domestic league players in the squad.
“I think we’re as excited to work with those boys as much as they’re excited to work with us. If there’s one thing the domestic boys have, it’s passion, so when it’s moulded in the right way, these local boys can be anything. If anything, we [heritage players] might be able to bring in some of the finer detail things in rugby league, like wrestle, and a bit in shape and structure.
“I’ve toured with all these heritage boys before and they’re all on field leaders who step up when the games are in the balance.”
Constantinou said his family, who are originally from Lesvos, have always been “super supportive.”
“Although the grandparents don’t like the contact part, I know they’re pretty proud.
“I have a pretty big Greek family here in Melbourne and they’ve been a big part of my life. Growing up it was always cousins, food, dancing and parties.
“I wish I spoke more Greek. I think I went to Greek school for a week when I was a kid but then threw in the towel. Probably one of the things I regret. Now when I visit Greece, I’m using apps to try and speak at least some Greek.
“It’s funny, in my teenage years I was doing so much and probably lost touch with the Greek side of me, but lately I’ve been trying to immerse myself in it a lot more now and connecting with that part of my life again.
“I’ve been to Greece four times with this upcoming trip being the fifth. I absolutely love the place and I’m really keen to be there in about a month’s time.”
The 14 Greek domestic players have been selected from the local competition which boasts over one hundred active players from four clubs across the nation.
That number is set to increase when new club Larissa enters the 2018/19 competition in late September.
The majority of Greek resident players gained valuable international experience last year in Belgrade. Greece took a side made up of all domestic players to the Balkan Championships playing Bulgaria (Won 68-8) and Serbia (Lost 50-8).
Following the qualifying matches in Europe, Greece will join 10 other nations in the 2018 Emerging Nations World Championship in Sydney starting on 1 October.
Greek National Rugby League Squad
Stefanos Bastas (HEMEL STAGS UK), Dimosthenis Kartsonakis (RHODES KNIGHTS RL), Alvaro Zota (RHODES KNIGHTS RL), Nikos Bosmos (RHODES KNIGHTS RL), Michalis Bosmos (RHODES KNIGHTS RL), Konstantinos Katsidonis (RHODES KNIGHTS RL), Kosmas Tsavaris (RHODES KNIGHTS RL), Pantelis Tsattalios (RHODES KNIGHTS RL), Giannis Rousoglou (ARIS EAGLES RL), Eugenios Malai (ATTICA RHINOS RL), Iasonas Kourkakis (ATTICA RHINOS RL), Giannis Nake (ATTICA RHINOS RL), Kostis Koutras (PATRAS PANTHERS RL), Anastasios Kladas (PATRAS PANTHERS RL)
Terry Constantinou (SUNBURY UNITED TIGERS,VIC), Jordan Meads (KAWANA DOLPHINS, QLD), Sebastian Sell (MITTAGONG LIONS, NSW), George Tsikrikas (NEWTOWN JETS, NSW ), Billy Tsikrikas (GLEBE BURWOOD WOLVES, NSW).