17 Oct 2022
Greece's incredible journey to their Rugby League World Cup debut
Greece are one of two nations making their debut in the 16-team men's tournament
By Andreas Schoinarakis
Greece's debut in the Rugby League World Cup will be the pinnacle of a bizarre odyssey - which included dodging police raids and secret matches at midnight.
Their qualification campaign was deemed illegal on their own soil, forcing organisers to take drastic measures to ensure training sessions and matches went ahead.
“There were times that we were afraid the police were going to come and stop the game," admitted Grigoris 'Greg' Koutsimpogiorgos, who made his national team debut in 2015 and has lived every minute of this incredible journey.
“On one occasion we even started a game 30 minutes after midnight, because the pitch was unavailable earlier. On other occasions, we had to train without lights as we couldn’t find a pitch anywhere else to train."
Rugby league in Greece was deemed illegal because of a dispute over the sport’s ruling body.
While the Greek Rugby League Association was recognised by the International Rugby League as the governing body in the country, the Greek government didn’t.
It recognised the Hellenic Modern Pentathlon Federation as the controlling body – and took action against any matches the GRLA arranged.
Which is why, in 2018, only five people knew in advance the venue of a European Championship fixture against Malta for fear police would intervene – and one official posted decoys on social media.
And why, months later, they had to complete their qualification campaign by moving home matches to London.
It was only in August the GRLA (now the GRLF) was recognised by the Greek government, smoothing the final touches of their preparations for the World Cup which begins with a Group A game against France in Doncaster this evening.
“I can’t wait to listen to the national anthem,” said Koutsimpogiorgos. “During that moment I will look back at all the difficulties we went through, knowing it was all worth it.”
Captain's run done #RLWC2021 pic.twitter.com/kIXwHZftaK
— Greek Rugby League Federation (@GreekRL) October 16, 2022
South Sydney half-back Lachlan Ilias will be the star attraction in a squad featuring eight domestic players and 16 from Australia who qualify through their ancestry.
Greece are very much the underdogs for tonight’s opener against France and, with daunting fixtures against Samoa and England over the next two weeks, they face an enormous challenge to reach the knockout stages.
But if ‘legacy’ counts for anything from this World Cup, Greece have already triumphed.
And last week the players announced they were foregoing their payments from the tournament so the money can be invested in the country to promote the now-legally recognised sport.
“We hope that after the World Cup, the sport can really be developed in Greece,” added Koutsimpogiorgos. “New teams could be created or most importantly some academies so that kids can play rugby from a young age.
“There are children in Greece whose body types don’t fit in football or basketball. We say that rugby has a position for everyone, no matter how tall or short you are. That’s why we want to provide rugby as a new option for the children.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England.
Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets or at the stadium ahead of kick-off.