Rugby League

League team out to put Serbia on the map

Think Serbian sport and it is hard to go past tennis champion Novak Djokovic. Throw in a few soccer stars and for the average Australian, that is about where sport in the Slavic nation ends.

But a team that has been playing for more than 60 years is set to arrive on Australia's shores, and one Canberra man hopes they will leave the country with a new legacy.

Making progress: Some members of the Serbian rugby league team before playing Russia in May 2015.
Making progress: Some members of the Serbian rugby league team before playing Russia in May 2015. Photo: Supplied

Adrian Craft is Serbia's rugby league defence and contact coach, and he said the sport is experiencing a surge in popularity, thanks largely to his side's success.

Serbia have climbed to 11th place in the world rankings, and Craft rates them a realistic chance of qualifying for the World Cup, which is set to take place across Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea in October 2017.

"All of the teams we play in qualifying, we've beaten all of them except for Wales," Craft said.

"So they're actually a pretty realistic chance of qualifying for the World Cup."

The team consists of Serbian nationals and Australians of Serbian descent, which he believes will culminate in a formidable line-up.

"We've got a couple of guys who trialled for one of the English Super League sides," Craft said. "You've got a couple of the Australian boys who have played rugby league at a high level, New South Wales Country and NRL under-20s. There's going to be a base level of skills that they have."

Craft has had coaching roles with the Gungahlin Bulls and the Affiliated States Police Rugby League in the past, as well as the Gungahlin Eagles rugby union team, and admitted that he was pleasantly surprised to get the call from the Serbian team.

"For me, it's an opportunity to coach at international level. It's not something you can let pass you by."

The Serbian team is set to play in the Cabramatta International 9s on January 30 and will play a Test against the Philippines on February 5 at the New Era Stadium, Cabramatta.