Almanac Rugby League – European Rugby League: Serbia hosts U/19s championship

International Rugby League has welcomed Belgrade, Serbia to its growing list of tournament hosts with this week’s running of the European U/19 Championship. Joining the hosts Serbia are teams from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England, France, Italy and the Ukraine. The Ukrainian team getting a late call up after the originally planned Russian squad were unable to make the tournament.


Held at the Makis Stadium within the local police academy facility that sits beside Ada Ciganlija… landlocked Belgrade’s answer to Sydney’s Bondi Beach… the Serbian Rugby League have used the venue for  international and domestic games for a number of years now. Not exactly in the same league as the MCG, Wembley  or Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane but as Paul Kelly says in his song….” from little things big things grow”.


Trying my luck with the Belgrade public transport system I made it to the ground with the assistance of some very helpful locals. With an array of international fans including a healthy contingent of Belgradians, I took my seat in the small stand alongside a family from Warrington, England who had a boy in that a squad. Actually a large sprinkling of England RL people present to watch a family member play for one of the European nations they were eligible to represent. Few other Aussies as well. Some with family in the Serbian squad where they had been qualified through the appropriate processes. Seeing NRL team merchandise around the stadium made for some home familiarity. This was enhanced when I met MJ a lady from Sydney now based over here and helping out with the fledgling Serbian Rugby League. She had originally assisted them when a senior Serbian squad played in Sydney a few years back.


The day kicked off with the hosts taking on England. The England team having selected its squad from community clubs rather any Super League aligned clubs. It would be like a player being selected from Brothers Toowoomba or Kempsey Dragons rather than the direct junior or feeder clubs of an NRL outfit. Serbia with a majority of players homegrown and a handful of Aussie heritage boys. Certainly a great experience to hear the local crowd belt out the emotive national anthem with the obviously close knit Serbian team. After some initial stern defence from the Serbs, the English gained ascendancy and slowly clicked over the scoreboard (metaphorically only… as there was no actual scoreboard!).  In the end experience, intuition and football nous outdid effort, pride and passion. The Serbs still very proud of their players… and rightly so.


In the other games Celtic pride was on the line as the Scots and Irish met in battle. Both teams, playing with a mix of heritage players and residents, entertained the crowd with a seesawing game and the result was only determined in the last five minutes. A Scotland win.


The two final games saw Wales power pass the Ukraine and France do likewise with Italy. The defeated teams being all residents for the Ukraine and only two heritage types for the Italians so they were valiant but outclassed.


All in all an entertaining day of international rugby league. Like many other sporting events, not everything went perfectly smooth and lessons will be learned, but to be fair some issues were out of the organisers hands or budget. The heatwave conditions here in Europe played a role as well for both players and supporters.


For myself it was great to meet administrators, game officials, players and supporters from all over Europe… and beyond. Chatting with administrators and referees from the Czech Republic, Germany, Ukraine, Lebanon and Poland is not something I get to do very often so I soaked up the experience.


Next round of games sees the winners facing off against each other and the same with tbe first day losers.  Serbia taking on the Ukraine is not a game I thought I would ever see in Rugby League… but I will be watching on Wednesday.


Signing off from Serbia.





A Rugby League enthusiast with a penchant for all things International and the grassroots regional representative scene, Damian Roache has finally started to write those stories he's been meaning to write for many a year....and enjoying the experience immensely !


  1. Ian Hauser says

    Damian, Thanks for your roving report. You bring a whole new perspective and meaning to international rugby league! Good to see that the Poms chose their squad from local leagues rather than the top tier Super League outfits. Looking forward to the mid-week report. Keep cool!

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