Nicholas Penna started playing rugby about six years ago, but it was a sense love for Hellenism that lead him to pursue the sport in Greece.

He was surprised to find that Greece even had a national rugby team, so in 2008 whilst doing university exchange in Athens, he started making contacts, the way sports players do. “I met an Englishman in a bar,” Penna told Neos Kosmos.

“I told him I was interested and he knew the general manager of Athens rugby club, so I kept in contact and then eventually went back and tried out for the team”. Penna was actually in Greece last year teaching martial arts when he first tried out for the Athens team, and in November he was given five days notice to join the team. “I didn’t get picked for the squad to go to Israel, but then I got the call-up about five days before I had to be in Greece, like a spur of the moment thing from the new coach asking me to come,” Penna said.

Penna played two games and has been invited back this April to play against Luxembourg. In the upcoming European Rugby league competition teams from Cyprus, Luxemburg, Finland, Bulgaria and Greece will compete. Rugby is somewhat of a minority in Greece, Penna says. “As a sport rugby is not very big but it is present,” he says. “If you go to the Irish pub they always put on the Heineken Cup, at expat pubs and that kind of scene you can watch rugby matches but apart from that they don’t really know about it”.

The sport is being promoted in Greece with new clubs forming and a lot of interest, Penna says. “There’s an interest there, they just need the resources,” he says. Penna currently plays for Boxhill rugby club and practices martial arts, which he also teaches in Oakleigh. He competed in the Panhellenic Games last year in Melbourne, winning the heavyweight division seniors and competing in the Greco Roman wrestling competition. The part-time labourer and university student certainly has his hands full.

“I try to encompass a lot,” he says. Penna, along with Jeremy Raftos, who plays for the eastern suburbs in Sydney and Dean and Jim Bertos who play for Marywhether and Carlton in Newcastle, is hoping to play for Athens against Luxemburg in Athens on April 2, against Finland in Finland on June 10 and then against Bulgaria in Greece and Luxemburg in Luxemburg in mid to late November.

The boys are looking for sponsorship to fund part of their travels, so they can represent Australia while playing for Greece. “Out of all the Greek players we have to travel the furthest; one of the guys who was our captain can’t come in April because he just can’t afford it,” Penna says. “We’re looking for any help we can get. The team has a great future and they’re trying to build up the strongest team possible but it’s difficult with little funding from Greece due to it being a small sport there and of course the financial crisis”. Overseas players are needed to strengthen the Greek national team, Penna says.

“Maybe Australia, a great home of rugby, can help its Greek Australian players realise their dreams to build a great rugby nation in Greece and compete at the highest levels both at XV and maybe even Sevens in the Olympics of the future,” he added. “Australian-based players will raise the standards and help with the future success of the team”.