The Rugby League World Cup kicks off this October and for the first time ever, Greece will be there to take part with Greek-Australian NRL players set to feature.
Greek Head Coach and North Queensland Cowboys Assistant Coach, Steve Georgallis, joined South Sydney Rabbitohs and Greek hooker, Peter Mamouzelos on the Ouzo Talk Podcast to talk about the historic tournament and the role their families have played in inspiring their involvement.
The fledgling Greek Rugby League endured unprecedented challenges in their quest to qualify for the World Cup, with politics and in-fighting threatening to divide the young competition, barely a decade into its existence.
From training and playing games in secret, to booking multiple grounds for games as a diversion for the local police, playing Rugby League with the internationally recognised – but not Greek Government recognised – Greek Rugby League Federation was for a time, bizarrely, an illegal activity in Greece.
But with committed individuals in Australia, Greece and the UK winning their fight for the game to be independently recognised earlier this year, Greek Rugby League is primed for what could be the beginning of a period of growth, starting with October’s World Cup appearance.
Despite going into the tournament as underdogs, for Georgallis, the bumpy road that the Greeks have travelled has created a fighting spirit.
“I think when you’re favourite there’s always that complacency, but when you’re underdogs there's always that fight and I think the Greek team is built on fight,” says Georgallis.
“To get to where we are today has been built on fight – we’ll fight for everything and we know that we’re underdogs but (the players) will try their best and do the best for their families and obviously for the country of Greece.”
“I’m mostly doing it for my dad. He came to this country with nothing and has given us everything you know – I actually get quite emotional talking about it.”
For Mamouzelos – who starred for the Greeks during the qualification process – it’s all about honouring the man who gave him his opportunity in the game, his father Theo, but also the men with whom he’ll share the field with come October.
“He was the one who taught me how to play footy, so to represent our heritage on the biggest stage is pretty special,” says Mamouzelos.
“Something that's really big for me is the boys back home just to see every time we go over, how keen they are to learn and to always improve, and then especially when you're singing the national anthem and you look to the side and the same crying that you don't want to let them down come game-time.
“I'm really keen to go over there and just play for them boys because, you know this is probably the biggest stage of their lives playing at this World Cup.”
The Greek Rugby League’s official World Cup team announcement will take place at a special event on September 14 at Sydney’s Grand Roxy. Former Greek-born Australian Test captain Dr George Peponis will do the honours in front of current and former players. Tickets are still available by calling 0417 414 204.