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Greece is to play Italy at Oki Jubilee Oval on September 27th.
The historic international match between Greece and Italy will come to fruition when both teams run out onto Oki Jubilee (Kogarah) Oval on September 27.
The game will kick-off at 3pm allowing plenty of time for Rugby League supporters to attend the NRL play-offs at Aussie Stadium later in the day.
Months of planning have gone into getting the game to become a reality with officials from both the Greek and Italian Rugby League working overtime.
Greece will be captain-coached by former Wests, Easts and Wests Tigers utility player Steve Georgallis while ex-Parramatta and Illawarra full-back David Riolo will be the mentor for Italy.
John Skandalis (Wests Tigers) and Justin Tsoulos (Parramatta) are set to play for the Greeks while Jason Stevens (Cronulla) is unavailable because of prior overseas travel arrangements. Willie Peters (Souths) and George Gatis (North Qld) were all set to wear the Greek jersey but have been forced to pull out due to injuries.
Former Sydney Roosters hooker Simon Bonetti will return to Sydney to play Rugby League for Italy for the first time since being involved in the 2002 NRL grand final.
Ex-North Sydney and Australian Test player Greg Florimo ill also be playing for Italy as well South Sydney's Jamie Russo and North Qld's Paul Dezolt.
Both squads have yet to be finalised for the game but interest amongst the Greek and Italian community has been fantastic. Some people have asked why Greece, featuring Greek-Australians are playing Italy, featuring Italian-Australians.
"The Italians have already played matches in Italy featuring local players and are planning a four-team competition next season. That all started from Sydney when Italy entered the World Sevens in 1995," said Rugby League International Development Officer Tas Baitieri.
The same applies to the Greeks who will use the resources from Australia to take the game to Greece. "We would love to have Greeks from back home start the game on their own accord but there isn't any Rugby Union, which means that nobody knows anything about Rugby League. We have to drum up support here and then plant the seeds in Greece," said Georgallis. "The long term aim is to play the game in Greece. It is as simple as that. Nothing more, nothing less. Everyone wearing the Greek jersey will be making history."
Greece are following the lead of Lebanon, who have introduced a regular competition in Beirut after Lebanon made their international debut in the 1997 World Sevens in Sydney.
The Greek Rugby League (GRL) have compiled a list of players and officials to help them in their bid to start Rugby League in Greece. They are always on the lookout for players, officials and sponsors. Anybody interested can log on to the official GRL website at www.greekrugbyleague.com for further details.
Greece defeated New Caledonia 26-10 late last month in an international friendly while Italy went down 30-10 to Scotland in Padova last July. "Everybody will get the chance to be involved. We have other matches that we will be playing and it will give many of the participants the opportunity to play," said Georgallis. Future matches include playing in the World Sevens qualifiers in January/February 2004, the Wollongong Sevens in February 2004 and a tour of New Caledonia in February/March 2004. The tour of New Caledonia will include coaching and referee clinics to help the development of the game in the South Pacific island.
The GRL is looking at heading to Greece in 2005 to stage a tournament that could involve as many as eight nations. Serbia, Italy, France, Russia, Greece, Lebanon, Scotland and Holland could well be featuring in the first ever Rugby League match to be played in Greece.
The next stage would be to set up a club competition which would most likely be run in conjuction with the Universities.
Greek Rugby League officials will be travelling to Greece later this season to make contact with Greek Australians that are now living in Greece. " That way they know what Rugby League is because it is not shown on television and Greeks that have never been to Australia wouldnt have a clue," said Colin Mylonas, founder of the Greek Rugby League. " It is still early days at the moment but we are going over there to see what our options are."
The Italian Rugby League will continue to stage matches in Italy and are still pushing for a domestic competition next season to be based in the north of the country. "Our competition will run in June and/or July because most of our players are involved in Rugby Union and that is the best time for everyone to play Rugby League," said IRL Manager Mick Pezzano. The game will also be televised by Channel 31 and broadcast on two Greek radio stations. The match has been approved by the Rugby League International Federation.