A significant weekend of rugby league in Norway has illustrated the surge the game is making in the country.
In the south west, Porsgunn Pirates met Sandnes Raiders in the first game of the Norwegian championship, with the Pirates recording a 48-6 victory at Kjølnes Stadion, in front of a healthy crowd.
The following day, the nation’s new U19 team played their inaugural international against Serbia U18 in Nannestad.
The visitors, led by captain and soon to be Toulouse Olympique trialist Vladimir Milutinović, – who scored six tries and kicked five goals for a 34-point haul – proved too strong, recording a 54-12 win.
Håvard Hansen scored the first-ever try for Norway’s junior team.
Milutinović was awarded the Warren Heilig trophy for man-of-the-match, presented by the founder of Norwegian rugby league whose vision and determination from 2009 set the foundations, Heilig having flown in from Brisbane for the occasion.
RLN president Lee Johnson said: “Norway has emerged with a squad of committed young players that want more from club and national level. Our national coaches and I held talks with our Serbian counterparts. We share the same problems and strengths in growing the sport in our countries.
“We also found out that a Serbian town is twinned with one in northern Norway where we have a number of rugby league players. Overall this was a great first game for us and we have opened talks to play more.”
In the domestic championship, four-times Grand Final winners, Oslo Capitals now benefit from a feeder club, Lillestrøm Lions, which itself boasts a couple of internationals.
Northern-most outpost, Bodø Barbarians, situated 200km inside the Arctic Circle, have won the competition once but been runners-up four times.
The duo are joined in the northern conference by defending champions Trondheim Rugby Klubb, founded in 2015 and runners up in their first season, with students making up the core of their team.
In the south, Flekkefjord Tigers have been in the top four on four occasions – a notable achievement for a town of just 10,000 inhabitants – and sustained by a significant amount of junior development in the area.
They compete against rapidly improving Porsgrunn Pirates, Sandnes Raiders, who joined last year, and newcomers Stavanger Storm who, thanks to the town’s oil-based economy, has a large expatriate player base to call on.
RLN has instituted a new development division underneath the Championship, to support the sport’s growth.
As well as Lillestrøm, the village of Sparbu started a rugby league club last year and acts as a feeder to Bodø-Kragerø Rugby playing a similar role for Porsgrunn, whilst the Farsund Bobcats will feed players into the Flekkefjord Tigers.
Finally, Nannestad Norsemen, next to Oslo’s main airport, was created earlier this year and is made up of 16-19-year-olds, many of whom played against Serbia.
The next round of the championship is on 13th May, when powerhouses Trondheim and Oslo play one another.