Red Star dream of return to England despite Challenge Cup defeat

Red Star Belgrade will not be deterred by their Challenge Cup defeat as they set their sights on entering the England or French domestic league structure in the coming years.

The Serbs were defeated 38-10 by amateur side Millom, ending the Serbian side’s debut campaign in the Challenge Cup at the first hurdle.

However, English-born Mark Pullen told League Express that they have serious ambitions to grow the game in Serbia.

“Ultimately, we want Red Star to be in the Super League or a European equivalent – but you’ve got to stress that it’s very much a long-term goal,” he said.

“In terms of the Balkan league, it’s a waiting game for the Greeks and Turks to get up to standard. We’d like to look at League 1 and work up, or go through the French Elite 2 and work upwards. But right now, we’re getting exposure in the Challenge Cup. That’s our only opportunity against UK opposition, but it’s been very valuable for us.”

Pullen also admitted that after going through the Serbian League unbeaten in 2018, Red Star – whose team was almost-entirely Serbian – ‘needed to get beaten’ to further their development.

He said: “It was always about our boys testing ourselves against the heartlands of the game. We went through last season without being beaten, and we needed to get beaten, whichever round it was in.

“What’s happened over the last couple of months has been great for Belgrade, for Millom and for the game.

“Toronto is a top-down project, and we’re a bottom-up project. Our goals revolve around working the local schools, getting the Academy going and getting youngsters playing touch and pass and things like that. We don’t have the finance, but we have the enthusiasm.

“People appreciate what we’re trying to do I think. We respect that this is the heartlands and we can’t disrespect that, but we want people to join us on the journey, buy some merchandise and cheer us on. Hopefully we’ve won a few new fans today.”

The Coral Challenge Cup second round draw will take place tonight (Monday) at 6.00pm live from the clubhouse of Wigan St Patricks on the BBC Sport website.

Three-time Challenge Cup winner and current Leigh Centurions captain Micky Higham will be conducting the draw alongside England and Wigan Warriors stand-off George Williams.