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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 February 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 FEBRUARY 2019 27 SPORT The civil war threatening Greece’s World Cup campaign CON STAMOCOSTAS Greece is only two wins away from qualifying for a historic place at their first Rugby League World Cup, but its progress is under threat by Greek authorities. If Greece defeats Norway on 18 May in London, then beat either Scotland or Russia in the group they, qualify for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup which is being staged in England. However, Greece's World Cup campaign has been undermined by the president of the expelled Hellenic Rugby League Federation, Anastasios 'Tasos' Pantazidis who has attempted to ban players and prevent the Greek national team from playing. In 2016, the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) formally expelled the Hellenic Rugby League Federation (HRFL) from its membership after a four month suspension period. This saw the Greek Rugby League Association (GRLA) became the new governing body for the clubs and national team of which Terry Liberopoulos is a board member and Greece's team manager. He told Neos Kosmos that the split has become acrimonious leading to Greece's previous World Cup qualifier having to be played behind closed doors in fear of being stopped. "When Greece played against Malta in September last year the match had to be played in secret for fear of police intervention," he said. "We couldn't even tell the players where the game was. We had to tell Malta not to say where the game was being played either because we wanted the game to go ahead. That's how ridiculous this is becoming." Former Greek player and member of the backroom staff, Jim Minadakis said that since the authorities attempted to halt a match be- tween a Greek and Serbian team they've had to play and train in secret. "The players are heroes," he told Neos Kosmos. "Each time the police come they don't stop the matches but that is only because we talk to them and explain the situation. But after the matches one of the team members has to go to the police station and file a report." In attempt to keep control of Greek rugby league Pantazidis placed the HRFL under the banner of the Hellenic Federation of Modern Pentathlon. But in October 2017 a court in Athens dismissed an application by the Hellenic Federation of Modern Pentathlon to support its position as the governing body of rugby league in Greece, with the exclusive right to field a Greek national team. With the decision supporting the Greek Rugby League Association's position as the nation's legitimate governing body under the Rugby team. It's one that we organise,” he said "It's wonderful teams spontaneously form and play, but such teams cannot be legal entities. They cannot create international tournaments, they cannot play overseas teams in international tournaments and claim to represent Greece." Meanwhile Liberopoulos hopes Greece's attempts to qualify for a World Cup aren't derailed if they get past Norway. Greek police halt Balkan super league match. PHOTO: SUPPLIED League International Federation. However Pantazidis refuses to go away and last month he told Al Jazeera News that he was simply following Greek Law. "There is only one national "Lucky the 2021 World Cup is in England," he said. "But the problem is if we do play Scotland it will be in Greece and we are worried that the authorities will do all they can to stop the game. "What happens if the police come and we can't continue playing? It is a possibility that we will hide that venue. It's hard not playing in front of any supporters. People involved around the world in rugby league have told me they have never seen anything like this." Steve Georgallis: ‘I’m proud of coaching Greece’ CON STAMOCOSTAS While Steve Georgallis never represented Australia during his decorated Rugby League career, as coach of the Greek National team he is only two wins away from qualifying for the 2021 World Cup in England. The former Wests Tigers legend played 229 games during his career which included an appearance for NSW in the State of Origin team and also represented Greece in their first ever international. Georgallis has the distinction of also being the first Greek Australian to be head coach of an NRL team when he coached the Penrith Panthers during the 2012 season. The Greek Australian took time from his busy schedule as Canterbury Bulldogs Assistant coach to speak to Neos Kosmos about his delight at being involved with the Greek national team. "Obviously my father is Greek and I am very passionate about my heritage," said the 50-year-old. "I played the game for a long time and coached for a long time and I offer the Greek players my experience. The Greek players love playing and they want to play. When you have players like that I can't see how they can't succeed. I also think Greeks are built to play rugby league as they enjoy competing in contact sports like wrestling." From Dr George Peponis, to Braith Anasta, John Skandalis, George Gatis, Michael Korkidas, and Nick Kouparitsas the influence of Greek Australian players in local rugby league is pronounced. Georgallis revealed one player especially inspired his career. "Growing up I used to look at players like Peponis," he said. "Rugby League wasn't big in our culture, they don't play the sport in Greece and obviously our parents aren't going to push us towards those sports. It was mainly soccer, but those players were our heroes and we thought those Greek guys made it so we might as well have a go." Greek skipper Michael Korkidas, coach Steve Georgallis and assistant coach. PHOTO: SUPPLIED Georgallis coached Greece at last year's emerging Nations World Championship which was held in Sydney and featured Cronulla's Billy Magoulias and former Rooster Michael Korkidas. He revealed that mentoring four young Greek players who flew over from Greece specifically for the tournament was thrilling. "It was fantastic," he said. "Especially for those four young Greek players to be involved and playing with players who are at a higher level. All four players stayed at my house and Nick Politis also helped out, he paid for their airfares to come out. It was a really good experience and we unearthed a few younger players as we look ahead to the future." If Greece defeat Norway on May 18 in London and secure victory over either Scotland or Russia in the group they will qualify for the 2021 World Cup. If that occurs Georgallis believes it would provide a massive boost to the sport in Greece. "We started in 2003 and it's now 2019, so it has been a long time coming," he said. "It's been a lot of hard work in setting up a domestic competition. It would be about being competitive and winning games. If we do make the World Cup it would be a massive thing for rugby league in Greece."
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