Serbian Knights, made up from players born outside Belgrade, won the 13th SRL State of Origin, beating capital-born Belgrade Rebels 32-24.
The Knights, led by Budimir Tomanović-Tomba medal winner, international Vojislav Dedić, overturned a 24-22 deficit in the final eight minutes of a match played in Paraćin, the city that staged the first-ever rugby league game in the country, in 1954. Đorđe Stošić and Vuk Štrbac both scored try-doubles for the victors who took the trophy for only the fourth time.
The Origin clash was the culmination of a week-long festival of rugby league in the city which included over 150 boys and girls from elementary schools receiving lessons in the sport from eight coaches. Around 70 took part in practice matches and played in a touch rugby tournament in the stadium in the build up to the match. It is hoped that a club will now be set up in Paraćin.
The game saw a further landmark, with new Bristol Sonics utility, Nikola Štrbac, becoming the first SRL Origin player to be born outside of Serbia. Originally from Sydney, he is eligible through his parents.
The match was closely monitored by new Serbia coach, Super League’s Castleford Tigers’ talent development manager, Darren Higgins, whose mother is Serbian. He has taken up the opportunity to help his motherland prepare for this autumn’s 2017 RL World Cup European Qualifiers.