Zsolt Lukacs, who dreams of a Rugby League version of the famous Mighty Magyars football team, tells ASH HOPE how the game is growing in the Eastern European country
“The future is that we continue to rise in the world rankings, but we must have something in place to keep that player pool growing. Our plan is to have a domestic competition in the very near future.”
Zsolt Lukacs, Hungarian Rugby League Federation chairman
THE Hungarian Rugby League Federation are delighted with their colourful international calendar – and the Budapest-based body can give one good reason why they should never make a change.
Their exploits on the international front have brought appearances on both Duna World and Digi TV, the Eastern European country’s equivalents of the BBC and ITV, and federation chiefs are showing no signs of slowing down.
This year Hungary have already beaten Philippines 30-12 and produced a commendable display in a 40-28 defeat by Malta.
Both games were held in Australia, and there will be another coveted trip Down Under to play in the eagerly-awaited Emerging Nations World Championship in November.
“We try to bring attention to the HRLF through the international game,” explains chairman Zsolt Lukacs.
“I firmly believe that increased international activity helps not only Hungary, but the greatest game in general, all over the world.
“Last year the Magyar Bulls had four sanctioned matches and one international friendly. This year we have around eight to ten games, and maybe more.
“The Emerging Nations World Championship is included, of course, but that sounds like a record in Rugby League history to me.
“We try to capitalise on that fact on all possible fronts.
“The ENWC is a good story to sell. It cost a lot though to create our product, thanks to the investment here by the enthusiasts.
“Livestreaming our games really helps, but we still need the old-school TV coverage.
“We are hoping for a broadcast agreement to show our ENWC games. That would be the real deal for Hungarian Rugby League.”
The ENWC, which runs over two weeks in Western Sydney, will also include the likes of Canada, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Latvia, Malta, Niue, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Thailand and Vanuatu.
Many of the emerging nations have adopted monikers to raise their domestic profile, such as Canada Wolverines, Japan Samurais and Philippines Tamaraws.
But none of the suffixes are as deep-rooted in the sporting world than Hungary’s.
The Mighty Magyars were the talented national football team of the 1950s.
A golden generation of players included future Real Madrid favourite Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, who went on to play for Barcelona and goalkeeping great Gyula Grosics, and Hungary dominated world football.
They went on a run of more than four years without defeat and reached the 1954 World Cup final.
The year before, Hungary humiliated England, a stunning 6-3 victory at Wembley exposing the Three Lions’ deficiencies as they lost a home game to a non-British or Irish team for the first time.
England hoped for revenge during the build-up to the World Cup, but were left embarrassed once more as they were thrashed 7-1 in Budapest.
So strong was the Puskás-led side that in the World Cup, they beat West Germany 8-3, South Korea 9-0, Brazil 4-2 and Uruguay 4-2 before a 3-2 defeat by West Germany in the final.
The 1956 Hungarian Revolution caused the break-up of the side, but it has gone down in sporting history.
Now the Rugby League team are aiming to bring more success under the Magyar banner.
“It’s a heritage we are very proud of, and it is an age-old reference to the Hungarian people we are proud to represent,” adds Lukacs.
“It’s a tradition that we happily keep now. One of the players created the Magyar Bulls name and logo.
“We used the name from when we first started playing Rugby League officially in 2013, after our first game in 2011 and two years of graft.
“I set it up with my two friends, and former teammates who are still involved with me, Gyula Herpai and Bálint Mézes.
“I think we are where we should be at the moment, especially considering the hard work and investment in our five years and certainly with the recent upsurge in international games.
“We needed the Malta game and the one against Philippines two weeks before to start preparations for the Emerging Nations World Championship, and we cannot stress enough how big that competition is for us.”
Naturally, the hope is that the ENWC will amplify the media coverage and international fixture list for Hungary, who were placed 29th in the latest RLIF World Rankings, up from 38th the year before.
“It will draw public, media and government attention and motivation for new players,” explains Lukacs.
“Hungary is a non-rugby nation and Rugby League is not recognised in my country at the moment.”
Earning government recognition is a big objective and the federation chiefs understand the importance of creating a domestic structure to underpin the international action.
“We put a lot of hard and smart work into the international project,” continues Lukacs.
“That’s what the world ranking reflects, but at the same we are realistic and know that the domestic development is the most important thing.
“This is the full strategy of the federation, but it’s easier to get recognition, talking about our government here, if the Magyar Bulls are ranked high and participate at world events.
“The future is that we continue to rise in the world rankings, but we must have something in place to keep that player pool growing.
“Our plan is to have a domestic competition in the very near future. We can’t thank the Czech Rugby League Association enough for allowing us to have regular games by participating in their second division.
“But our goal is to recruit domestic talent and kick off our domestic competition.”
That objective will surely be achieved by a federation striving to improve year on year and which has links with both England and Australia through emigration over the years.
Recent figures suggest there are around 95,000 people of Hungarian decent living in the UK and even more Hungarian-Australians.
Many within those communities have reached out to the HRLF and, particularly through Facebook, Lukacs and his committee members have unearthed players.
Meanwhile Super League clubs Leeds, St Helens and Warrington have all offered advice.
“Our friends in Australia have helped us a lot and I would also like to mention our GB unit as well,” says Lukacs.
“Unfortunately the country has a lot of exiled people, but fortunately we are finding each other.
“Next to the Rugby League European Federation, they give us the biggest help in terms of professional development, motivation, even financial support.
“We are working systematically to keep the domestic development in focus but allow the heritage players to assist us.”
This article appears in the May 2018 edition of Rugby League World magazine (issue 445) in shops now and also available online from www.totalrl.com/rlw
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