Expansionist Blog: How Milford Marlins have helped to develop Ukraine rugby league

Sebastian Sternik

One of the more surreal stories of 2018 occurred at Milford Marlins who welcomed eight Ukrainian internationals to their team. 

The reason behind this project was simple – to the allow players to gain experience and improve the quality of the Ukrainian international side. 

So how did it all come about and more importantly, did it work? 

President of the Ukrainian RL federation, Artur Martyrosyan, said: “I searched for a club last year where the best Ukrainian players could go and gain experience. I asked the RFL to help me find a club in the Leeds region. Milford Marlins first asked about our players and sent an invitation to their club”. 

The first batch of players came to the club in April. The four men named Oleksandr Skorbach, Mykhailo Troian, Yevgen Trusov and Oleksandr Shcherbyna, competed in a friendly against Stanningley and despite losing 42-20, the players impressed with all tries for Milford being scored by the Ukrainians. 

Later, Oleksandr Kozak, Sergiy Kravchenko, Bohdan Vepryk and Oleksandr Syvokoz joined their team mates and helped Milford climb up the NCL Division One table.

The project has shown signs of success with Ukraine beating Malta 34-22 in their opening game of the World Cup qualifiers. Although their chances of making the 2021 showpiece were squashed following a narrow 26-28 defeat to Greece, it certainly seems that Ukraine will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future.

While it is still early doors, there is no doubt that the team has come far in a very short space of time. The sport only arrived in the country in 2006 when Martyrosyan, along with his father and colleague, decided to set up a domestic competition. 

Before the war with Russia, the domestic league included teams in the East side of the country; cities such as Donetsk, Dnipro, Kharkiv and even in the region of Crimea. 

In 2017 a revamped competition was set up which included teams from the west side of the country. Many of these sides are also affiliated with Super League clubs in England such as the Lviv Tigers and Kyiv Rhinos. 

With the domestic competition in full flow and a number of players gaining valuable experience in the UK, it seems that Ukrainian rugby league is heading in the right direction.