The Serbian Rugby League seems to be riding a wave at the moment, having recently completed their first overseas tour to Australia.
The vist, according to Milos Sakan, press officer for the Serbia Rugby League, could not really have gone any better, and the Serbs are hoping to reap success from seeds sown in both Europe and Australia as a result of the trip.
“The tour was great success,” Sakan told Love Rugby League.
“We planned it for whole year, it was really challenging for us to be able to prepare and to execute this historic trip.
“For starters, our main goal was just to realise the tour. After it became reality the second thing was to get as many quality Serbian origin players to come to train with us, and later to debut for national team.
“And last, but certainly not least, the tour was designed for Serbian Rugby League to connect as much as possible with large Serbian community in Australia.
“We succeeded in all three of our goals.”
One of the highlights of the trip was the experience it provided for the players, especially those who had travelled from Serbia to play.
Meeting some NRL stars was an added bonus, which gave the players a tremendous buzz.
“The players loved it! It was such a unique experience because it’s way different from all the countries where we’ve played before,” said Sakan.
“Our players do travel a lot so, it’s not like they just got out of the country for the first time.
“But Australia is beautiful and the it is true rugby country so the players had a chance to see some of the biggest stars train, like Sam Burgess and South Sydney Rabbitohs, or Daly Cherry-Evans and Manly Sea Eagles.
“It was like a dream come true.”
As for the action on the field, the Serbian players were properly tested in a tough competitive environment in the Nines tournament.
They were boosted by some enthusiastic local support too, which was especially apparent at their Test Match against the Philippines.
“We played in Cabramatta Nines tournament, we got one win and three loses,” he said.
“It was just a great experience for our players because it was probably the hardest Nines tournament they had ever participated in.
“After that we had a Test Mach against Philippines in New Era Stadium in Cabramatta, and we lost 18-12, but got a try disallowed in the dying minutes of the match.
“But the score wasn’t so important because we had over 2.000 Serbs come to support us, which was the highlight of the tour.”
Tapping into the passions of the expatriate Serb community in Australia is also something that the governing body wants to build on.
“The Serbian community in Australia was great to us during our stay,” said Sakan.
“For last couple of years we have good support from them, that is growing, especially after this tour. We had good fundraising activities, not just during the tour, but before and after.
The most famous rugby league Serbian-Australians are the Trbojevic brothers, Tom and Jake, who both ply their trade for Manly.
While there has been some contact between the brothers and the Serbian Rugby League, no names have been confirmed yet when it comes to heritage players who might pull on the Serbian colours.
“We are in contact with Trbojevic brothers,” Sakan confirmed.
“Serbs are really proud people and most our origin players do want to represent its mother country, but it’s not that simple because there are bunch of organisational stuff to be prepared.
“When our team goes to play Wales in October we will have the best available team.”
Domestically, the game in Serbia is moving forward too, with the sport putting down roots which are steadily growing into something significant.
“We have a Serbian Super Cup coming up this weekend, holders Dorcol play Red Star,” said Sakan.
“The week after that championship starts, we have six teams in the First, and also six in the Second Division. As a country where rugby league isn’t that popular like football or basketball, our biggest challenge is infrastructure and youth base.
“But in current conditions we do the best we can. Most of our national team players still come from domestic clubs, which confirms that we are doing good job.
“We had couple of our players try out for Championship clubs in England, and we had some players play in lower divisions in England, but our problem is getting them papers for longer stay. As you know we aren’t part of the EU.
“Our main goal in 2016 is to be as competitive as we can in the World Cup qualifiers in October.
“Our rivals are really good teams so it’s going to be really hard. But we dream to be a part of WC some day, if not 2017 then 2021.”