Re-formed and rejuvenated, the Russian rugby league championship is set to kick off this weekend.
In the opening match, CSKA Moscow will face Sparta (from the historic cathedral city of Kostroma, 330 kilometres north east of the capital).
Nine clubs in all will start the campaign, spread over two conferences, with many of them returning to the sport after a number of years. Five will play in the Centre; defending champions Moscow Magicians, Vereya Bears, Muscovites Spartak, led by one of Russian rugby league’s earliest leaders, Aleksandr Kolikov,CSK Moscow and Sparta (Kostroma).
The Urals Conference, covering the mountainous region roughly 1500 kilometres east of Moscow which separates the European and Asian parts of the country, comprises: Vityez, based in Perm, joined by newcomers Ural from Ekaterinburg ( Russia’s fourth largest city), Bersek from Chelyabinsk, and the eastern-most `outpost’ club, RC Adrenalin, based in Tyumen. Adrenalin will be coached by ex-Lokomotiv Moscow back, Igor Gavrilin who played for Russia in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.
This re-formed Russian championship has been pieced together after long months of consultation and negotiation by Denis Korolev, chairman of the Association of Rugby League Clubs (ARLK). It is a new-look competition but based on historic ties.
“2017 is a new stage in the development of rugby league in our country,” said Korolev. “We hope that all the changes in the Russian rugby league community will see the level of the championship, both on and off the field grow now, year by year. This season will be a good indicator of the state of the game in Russia and of what other developments are needed.”
Evgeny Orlov, coach of Sparta (Kostroma) added: “We are seeing the sport become increasingly popular in Russia. I played it during my studies at the military institute in the Kostroma region and I am thrilled to come back to it now the opportunity has arisen.”
Both conferences will see home-and-away fixtures, with the top two from each qualifying for the finals series in the autumn. The leading duo will then advancing to the Grand Final.
ARLK is also attempting to create a student league among interested Muscovite universities and will organise Nines tournaments, and there is also a separate student competition continuing in Rostov-on-Don to the south.
Providing support to ARLK, the Rugby League European Federation will conduct joint coach and match official education seminars in June, when RLEF coach tutor Martin Crick and match official tutor Phil Smith will visit Moscow for a week, training six Russian educator candidates in each technical strand and overseeing them delivering Level 1 courses to local candidates.
The Technical Portal, which has been part-funded by the RLIF and the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme, will be fully operational in Russia by the first week of May, representing the biggest commitment to Russian-speaking participants in the field of technical education the sport has ever made.