Greek players and staff have been forced to pay about $10,000 each and some have risked arrest just for playing rugby league.
But after qualifying for the 2021 World Cup, they hope to finally win official recognition from the country’s government.
AEK Athens, one of Greece’s biggest and most successful soccer clubs, has recently taken the game under the umbrella of sports that it supports and Australian-based players, including Cronulla’s Billy Magoulias, have been conducting coaching clinics for local juniors.
With the team unable to play World Cup qualifying matches in Greece, coach Steve Georgallis estimates the players and staff have spent about $250,000 of their own money on travelling to London, Istanbul, Belgrade and Kharkiv for games.
“The players who have come from Australia and members of the staff have taken most of the burden,” Georgallis said.
“We have had a few charity events and fund-raising things but on average you are probably looking at about $10,000 each per player, which is a massive cost and just shows how passionate they are about the cause.”
Another example of the passion of Greek players and supporters is the fact games between the seven clubs in the domestic competition have been organised in secret and are often played after midnight so as to reduce the risk of arrest.
A dispute with the Hellenic Modern Pentathlon Federation has become so bitter they claim it is illegal for anyone to play rugby league under the governance of any organisation, including the Greek Rugby League Association.
Greece hosted a Test against Malta last year but to prevent the game being disrupted fake details were announced, including a venue 200km away, and when the police turned up in the early hours of the morning the match was almost over.
“We went to court a few years ago and the judge said that we could represent Greece and there wasn’t an issue so that is why we continue to play and the European Rugby League Federation recognised us as the national team,” Georgallis said.
“That’s when we started the process of trying to qualify for the World Cup but in doing so we couldn’t play in Greece because of the threat of the other party coming and saying they were the governing body.”
Under International Rugby League rules, teams must use 13 domestic-based players in the early rounds of World Cup qualification and as they progress and play harder opponents an increase in the number of heritage players is allowed.
However, Magoulias is the only member of the Greek team which beat Serbia 82-6 last weekend who has any NRL experience after making his debut for the Sharks this year.
South Sydney Jersey Flegg centre Nick Mougios and hooker Peter Mamouzelos and Sydney Roosters Jersey Flegg fullback Chaise Robinson and second-rower Jake Kambos also played in the team, which included three players from the Greek domestic competition.
Another four domestic players played in the previous week’s 42-24 loss to Scotland in London.
“I don’t think too many people knew that rugby league was in Greece, but the domestic competition has seven teams now and given what we have been up against that is pretty remarkable,” Georgallis said.
“There have often been times when we felt like giving up because we felt like we were banging our heads against a brick wall but we stuck solid and the domestic players played games in the middle of the night to make sure the competition kept going
“Hopefully us qualifying for the World Cup helps the domestic teams gain that recognition that we are the Greek Rugby League and significantly one of the big soccer teams who was with the rival organisation joined us two weeks ago.
“We held a few coaching clinics with them and that was promising because they are a big powerful sports club and they have joined up with our competition now and are hoping that a few other soccer clubs might follow.”