Serbia live the league dream on Australia tour
Serbia Rugby League enjoyed their recent visit to Australia, where a Serbian team participated in the Cabramatta Nines, and the organisation is determined to return in the future.
The Serbs also played an international against the Philippines, the first ever rugby league meeting between the countries, losing 18-12 in front of a passionate crowd.
Prior to the match, the players were presented with their jerseys by Australian rugby league icon Mario Fenech at the Serbian Embassy.
The next step for the Serbs is their World Cup qualifying campaign in the autumn, where they face games against Wales and Italy.
“Our dream is to qualify for the World Cup and we know that we need help wherever we can get it,” said tour manager Blagoje Stoiljkovic, following his return to Serbia.
“The Serbian community is really big in Australia, about 200,000 strong, so the purpose of this visit was to connect with those people while giving the team a couple of strong tests. We managed both objectives.”
The squad featured eight players from Serbian domestic clubs, plus 12 from Australian outfits. Four of the latter players had previously played back in Serbia.
“It was a memorable experience, most of us have never played in front of that large a crowd,” said captain Dalibor Vukanovic, commenting on the game against the Philippines.
“There were Serbian flags everywhere, we heard the people cheering, it was just unbelievable.
“We were hosted with great love, so we will do everything to qualify for the World Cup to have a chance to make that crowd proud again.
“We had a chance to go to Manly Sea Eagles’ training centre where we met their top players like Daly Cherry-Evans.
“Also, we saw South Sydney Rabbitohs train and had a chance to take a picture with Sam Burgess and a couple other players.
“It was like a dream come true, we watch all of those players on TV and we got a chance to meet them face to face.”
For the Australian-born Serbs, playing for their ancestral homeland was an opportunity to connect with their roots in a meaningful way.
“I’m so proud that I had a chance to play for Serbia, a country I know just from family stories and the internet,” said debutant George Vujanović.
“I know that it is a country with big sport heritage in soccer and basketball and, nowadays, tennis with Novak Djokovic being number one in the world.
“It was a lifetime experience to represent my country of origin both on and off the field.”
The squad were overseen by Australian staff, led by Yepoon Seagulls coach Jason Green, who was selected by consultant Brian Smith.
Despite losing the Test match at the New Era Stadium in Cabramatta, where the team enjoyed the support of 2000 fanatical Serbs in the crowd.
Stoiljkovic now wants to build properly on the momentum generated by the successful tour.
“We have a really good feedback after the tour,” he said.
“People are calling us from Australia wanting to get involved. Also, we are hoping to have some more players of Serbian origins available when the time comes.
“Under the guidance of our new special consultant Brian Smith we are hoping to have a fair chance to fulfil our dream and qualify.”