Serbia in talks with NRL and Super League eligible players
Serbia coach Darren Fisher says he has had brief talks with several high-profile players about the possibility of representing their heritage in the European Championship this autumn.
The Serbians are have had chats with several big names about representing their heritage to line-up alongside their domestic talent in this year’s European Championship.
Serbia are in a group alongside England (Knights), Scotland and Ireland in this autumn’s tournament, and they will host England for the first time in what will be a historic fixture.
There are a number of high-profile players in the NRL with Serbian heritage, including the Trbojevic brothers and Nick Čotrić.
Serbia coach Darren Fisher revealed to Love Rugby League after the European Championship draw back in February that they have spoken to a couple of players about proudly representing their families, but has stressed that his side will be largely made up of homegrown talent.
When asked if he had managed to convince a certain Mr Trbojevic, Fisher said with a smile: “Not quite! I have been in touch with a few people and they have likewise.
“It’s going to be a tough competition for Serbia and this is the next step for us. There are quite a few that are looking at what we do and how we get there, so it’s going to be exciting to see who picks up the phone next.”
NRL ace Nick Čotrić visits Red Star Belgrade
Canberra Raiders star Čotrić is incredibly proud of his Serbian heritage, and even went over to Red Star Belgrade last year whilst on a trip to his ancestral homeland.
“He visited Red Star Football Club and Red Star Rugby League club,” Fisher said.
“He’s a big fan of Red Star. Nick came over on holiday to Serbia and we looked at his heritage and stuff, so you never know.”
Hull KR centre Tom Opacic is eligible to play for Serbia too, with the Australian-born centre having Yugoslavian heritage.
“I’m not going in to that too much, I have briefly had a chat with both,” Fisher said when asked about Opacic and Čotrić.
“Obviously it’s a little bit harder for Nick playing in the NRL, a little bit easier for Tom playing in England and Super League, it gives us a little bit more access to Tom.
“I have spoken to a few more but we’ll just see how things pan out. We couldn’t really talk to players or discuss our plans until the (European Championship) draw was made because we didn’t know whether we are going to be in Serbia for the majority of it or England, so we couldn’t really give the players the dates and tell them ‘this is where we are going to be at’ at these stages.
“It’s just a matter of then trying to get the professional clubs to release them. It’s a little bit different for Serbia to being released for England or France.”
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Excitement building for European Championship
Fisher, a proud Yorkshireman from Wakefield, is looking forward to coming up against his home country whilst in charge of Serbia.
“It’ll be the first time I’ve coached against England so its exciting for me and it brings so much excitement to Serbia as well,” Fisher said.
“Everyone looks at France and England so we were equally excited to get either one in our group. We want to be able to compete against England or France so thats what we’ll go out to do.
“Out of them all I think we’re doing it the toughest but we’re excited by it. There was no easy draw. If you want to compete then you’ve got to face the best somewhere along the line. If 2025 is on our agenda, then we need to compete.”
Rugby league thriving in Serbia
Fisher believes that Serbia is a sleeping giant in rugby league, with it being comfortably the strongest rugby league nation in terms of participants in Europe outside of England and France.
According to the 2021 European Rugby League Annual report, Serbia boasted 703 registered participants, which is around double Scotland (369) and Ireland (420). It’s comfortably higher too than two other participants at last year’s World Cup in Italy (60) and Greece (190).
Serbia are running an eight-team domestic competition, with clubs playing as many as 23 games per year.
“There has been rugby league in Serbia since 1953,” Fisher explained.
“This is why France would have been the one if they came to Serbia because they helped introduce rugby league. There is a lot of history there and the competition has been there since.
“The competition is thriving, there are new teams popping up each time in different regions. We’ve got an Under-19s competition that plays regularly alongside the seniors.
“We are looking at going in to schools now. The women’s competition is coming in, we’ve got women’s teams that are now following the men’s groups. We are continuously growing.
“It’s a very competitive league. If I can’t make the games then they are streamed to me. The players are really passionate about the game.
“I will be giving opportunities to our domestic players. We’ve got three games pencilled in for the men’s team, possibly a fourth before our Euros, so that will give an opportunity to our domestic players about getting a shot at playing in the Euros.”
He Can Play For: Serbia
International Rugby League guru He Can Play For compiled a list back in 2022 of all the professional rugby league players who qualify to play for Serbia.
FB: Tom Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
FB: Dan Marjanovic (Brisbane A-Grade)
WG: Matt Dragisic (Canberra A-Grade)
CT: Ben Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
CT: Nick Cotric (Canberra Raiders)
CT: Tom Opacic (Hull KR)
CT: Zane Bijorac (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
HB: Ben Stevanovic (Wests Magpies)
HB: Luca Radosavljevic (Avignon – France)
LK: Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
LK: Zoran Pesic (Carpentras – France)
SR: Jason Muranka (Oldham)
PR: Jordan Grant (Melbourne Storm)
PR: Jake O’Meley (Newcastle A-Grade)
PR: Vladica Nikolic (Villeneuve)
PR: Vlado Kusic (Salon – France)
PR: Danilo Delic (Carpentras – France)
HK: Ray Jankovic (Wests Magpies)
HK: Clasp Jankovic (Parramatta Eels Under-19s)
Serbia will kick off their European Championship campaign in Scotland on October 21, before hosting Ireland and England.
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