The Greek rugby league team will enter the 2018 Emerging Nations World Championships in Sydney with increased confidence after achieving victory in their opening 2021 Rugby League World Cup qualifying matches in Europe.
The blue-and-whites travelled to Ukraine recently, defeating the home team 28-26 in Kharkov, before racking up a morale boosting 60-4 victory against Malta in Athens on September 15.
The team will now face Norway in the next stage of the World Cup qualifying process. The date and venue of the match are still to be confirmed.
A group of Greek domestic players have joined the rest of the squad in Sydney preparing to compete against 10 other nations in the 2018 Emerging Nations World Championships starting on 1 October when Greece plays Hungary.
Support required to continue developing the game in Greece
National team manager and Greek Rugby League Association board member Terry Liberopoulos is one of the driving forces behind the Greek international side, having been involved with the Greek Rugby League since day one in 2002.
Liberopoulos is naturally very excited and optimistic about the possibility of Greece qualifying for their first ever rugby league World Cup.
“It will put Greece on the rugby league map and hopefully help us attract more players, coaches, sponsors and volunteers. The most important thing for us is the development of the game of Rugby League in Greece.
“If we didn’t play our recent matches against Ukraine and Malta, we would have brought over eight or nine players from Greece. Nothing is achieved if you have 17 heritage players and no domestic players. You need regular domestic activity or else it is a waste of time.”
The biggest challenge for the Greek Rugby League Association is finding the funding needed to provide opportunities to develop players from Greece through competing in tournaments such as the Emerging Nations World Championships. Liberopoulos concedes he has had to make up financial shortfalls from his own pocket in the past.
“Our Taverna nights and sponsors play an important part, but we always need more help. Our Australian contingent pay for their own way simply because we haven’t got that much funding. I have poured so much of my own money into getting Greece on the rugby league map.”
Despite these challenges, Liberopoulos is confident of a good showing from his beloved Greek side in Sydney. They will be guided by coaches Steve Georgallis and Jim Pizanias, who both have NRL level experience. Former NRL and English Super League front rower Michael Korkidas will captain the side in what is likely to be his final stint for the Greek team.
“We have a great squad which includes many new players pulling on the Greek jersey for the first time. I am confident we will do well,” Liberopoulos said.
Realising the dream
Twenty-three-year-old fullback Dimosthenis Kartsonakis, who plays with Greek competition champions the Rhodes Knights, is one of four Greece domestically produced players travelling to Sydney to play in the competition.
Kartsonakis discovered the game as a teenager and says that playing rugby league has parallels with the challenges he has faced in life.
“What I like most about the game is its physicality during and its calmness after it. It’s similar to life. You will find obstacles in front of you, but you have to toughen up if you want to go forward. Every single step comes from a huge effort.”
The opportunity to represent his country and help in the quest to qualify Greece in a rugby league World Cup for the first time ever has been an emotional journey for the young back, who wears his heart on his sleeve.
“I think it’s every kid’s dream to play for the country. In Greece, we are such a proud nation with such an honourable story. I personally can’t hold my emotions. Whenever there’s a jersey presentation, a pre-game talk or the national anthem, my eyes get full of tears. Playing for the national team of Greece and qualifying was probably the proudest moment of my life. I don’t just represent my country – I represent my family, my dad, my mum, my little brother, my grandparents, everyone. I can’t describe it how it exactly feels but I wish everyone could feel this emotion.”
Kartsonakis, who will stay with Greek national team coach Steve Georgallis while he is in Sydney, says he feels “crazy with excitement” at the prospect of playing rugby league in Australia at the Emerging Nations World Championship.
“I’m just looking forward to gaining as much experience as possible from the best of the best, and bring all this knowledge back to Greece, so the sport can grow.
“I would like to mention some people. (If not for them) all this would never have happened: the coaches Steve Georgallis, Jim Pizanias and Michalis Chatziioannou, and team manager Terry Liberopoulos.
“Also the Australian Greeks. We instantly become brothers when we wear the same jersey. I just want to say thank you to them. Thanks for changing our lives, thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience the highest level of the sport.”
* The 2018 Emerging Nations World Championship will be played across three venues in Sydney from 1-13 0ctober, 2018. Greece has been drawn in Pool B along with Hungary and Vanuatu.
Greece squad: Stefanos Bastas (Hemel Stags), Terry Constantinou (Sunbury), Troy Errington (Guildford), Nathan Hughes (Beerwah Bulldogs), Clinton Hughes (Beerwah Bulldogs), Dimos Kartsonakis (Rhodes Knights), Michael Korkidas (Unattached), Con Kotsidonis (Rhodes Knights), Billy Magoulias (Newtown), Jordan Meads (Kawana Dolphins), Terry Mihalatos (Cabramatta), Nick Mougios (North Sydney), Giannis Rosoglou (Aris Eagles), Sebastian Sell (Mittagong), Sam Stratis (North Sydney), Liam Sue Tin (Valleys), Tyrone Taumako (North Sydney), George Tsikrikas (Newtown), Billy Tsikrikas (Glebe Burwood), Mitch Zampetides (Penrith Brothers), Alex Zarounas (Belrose), Laurence Zarounas (Belrose), Robert Tuliatu (Asquith), Jake Vrahnos (Sydney University), Adam Vrahnos (Sydney University), Sebastian Vourlos (The Entrance).