The game that came in from the cold – How Greece Rugby League battled back ahead of RLWC2021

4 Aug 2022

The game that came in from the cold – How Greece Rugby League battled back ahead of RLWC2021

By Steve Mascord

Image: Paul Cowan

AS a maritime lawyer, seeking government recognition for a sport is a bit outside Adam Vrahnos’ legal wheelhouse.

But until Tuesday, rugby league players in Greece actually resembled a group with which the 29-year-old London resident is quite familiar: smugglers.

Caught in an ugly political nomansland when it came to the Greek government, local players resorted to playing matches after midnight to avoid being shut down by police.

Qualification for the men’s World Cup, 19 years into the Greek rugby league odyssey, made resolving the issue an imperative and this week the requisite decrees were signed and Greek rugby league finally came in from the cold.

“This has been a decade long struggle and one that has seemed endless at times," GRL president George Stilianos said.

Sydney-raised, Wollongong-educated Vrahnos plans to contribute in a way that involves none of the gavels, trolleys of binders and silly wigs that litter his profession.

He plans to play in the World Cup.

“I’ve been in and around the Greek rugby league set-up for about 10 years now,” says the second rower, who scored two tries in London Skolars’ 46-6 win over Cornwall on Saturday.

“Hopefully it has a pay-off in the World Cup.”

Marrickville boy Vrahnos arrived in Manchester to work in maritime law in 2019, playing for Rochdale Mayfield before moving after the Pandemic to London, where he’s played for both Broncos and Skolars alongside fellow Greek star (and fellow lawyer, earning them the sobriquet 'Brothers In Law') Rob Tuliatu. 

The Greeks targeted Vrahnos as a future international a decade ago, when he was playing Ron Massey Cup.

Standing overlooking London’s New River Stadium, he recounts: “I’ve been on a couple of tours. I didn’t play in the Scotland game here but I played in the qualifier in Serbia. 

“My brother (Jake) was the first one to play for the Greek international side.

“I’m born and raised in Australia, my parents are born and raised in Australia but being Greek, it’s a very strong culture. If you’re half-Greek, you’re Greek. It’s one of those things: all-consuming. 

“I identify with my Greek culture and my Greek heritage just as much as I do with my Australian background. It’s not one or the other for me, it’s not half-half. I’m equally passionate about both and representing Greece isn’t for me, it’s for my grandparents, my parents. The chance to sing that national anthem in front of your family and your friends….”

His voice trails off. There’s a hint of a tear. “It’s emotional even thinking about something like that”.

Greece have anything but a rails run in their first appearance in the World Cup-proper. “We’ve got France, Samoa and England. The chance to play England at Bramall Lane is something that is an absolute dream. I say it’s a dream but I never even thought something like that was even possible. 

“The opportunity to play that would be all-time.”

So hard to top, in fact, that Adam Vrahnos says he won’t attempt to. 

“It is the main thing keeping my playing. I love the game, I love rugby league - but it gets harder as you get older. It’s a hard sport to play socially. You get busted up. Life gets in the way, work gets in the way. But I’ve kept hanging on with the carrot of the World Cup dangling there.

“My job has been awesome, the boss has been great, they’ve been really accomodating with things like … the last couple of years I’ve had a couple of injuries, had to have an operation, had a couple of days off work. They were really understanding of it all. They know I’m trying to make this World Cup squad. And they know how important it is for me and my family.

"I'd be happy to retire on the back of that."

At the risk of stirring up Vrahnos’ emotions again, I ask him to explain this visceral sense of identity that lies at the heart of our World Cup, perhaps more than others because in rugby league so many players represent nations in which they do not reside. 

“There’s detractors who talk about all these heritage players. To me it doesn’t matter whether you were born there. I’m a Greek citizen. I love my culture, I love

my people, I love my family. I love everything about my heritage, I’m super passionate about it. 

“I’ll do absolutely everything I can and leave it on the pitch for that. It doesn’t matter if I’m a heritage player or I’m born and raised in Greece.

“I’m Greek. That’s all that matters to me.”

Greece will play England, France and Samoa in Group A, with tickets available from rlwc2021.com/tickets

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