Serbia RL is currently celebrating the first ever game of Rugby League played in the country, which took place 65 years ago yesterday.
On 26 September 1953, the newspaper Politika – at that time the oldest and most popular in the former Yugoslavia – reported on a match that kicked off at 4pm, at the JNA stadium in Belgrade (today FC Partizan Belgrade’s ground), when the French youth national team took on a team from the University of Marseilles (Provence Region) in front of around 8,000 spectators; the young French winning 44-41 to widespread aclaim, having led 23-13 at half time.
Club matches followed, and Yugoslavia was later represented at the international board meeting in the run up to the inaugural World Cup, held in France the following year. In 1961, the Yugoslav national team played their first and only match against a French amateur XIII, going down 13-0 in Banja Luka. The modern Serbian RL federation was set up in 2001.
To commemorate that historic, inaugural event, Serbia and France will meet in a Test match at the NC Makis stadium on Sunday 7 October 2018.
The game will also be part of the centenary commemoration of victory in the First World War, and will honour the liberation of Serbia by French Marshal Louis Franchet d’Espèrey together with the Serbian Army. The winning team will be presented with the Marshal Franchet d’Espèrey Cup.
Before that, on 3 October 2018 at FC Heroj Polet stadium and three days later at the NC Makis stadium, Serbia will play two matches against Wales Dragonhearts, made up of players from the community competitions in the principality.
The Serbian coaching staff will use the trio of games as final preparations before their European Championship B matches with Russia and Spain, encounters which will also double up as qualifiers for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. The Serbians will be defending the trophy they won in 2015.