INTERVIEW WITH MARKO JANKOVIĆ
Q: What are the expectations at the eve of the new two-year cycle of international games?
M.J.: We are facing a very interesting and balanced competition. While trying to get good results, our priority will be to close the gap between the game of rugby league and established sports in the country, which have provided numerous Olympic, World and European champions, at both club and representative level. Success of the national team would be the easiest way to achieve that.
Q: What would be the recipe for such success?
M.J.: Everyone knows that there is no such thing as a magic wand. There is a right way, probably with a lot of obstacles on it, but the taste of success would be better for that. Today we face a tough financial crisis, a decrease in interest for sport in general amongst the youth, which certainly represents a big problem for a “small sport” such as rugby league is perceived in Serbia today. However, the game of rugby league requires strong people, with even stronger character and we have no right to whine over bad fate – we must fight even harder. Accepting the challenge and setting the highest targets, i.e. promotion to the higher tier would be our two-year plan.
Q: How would the success of Serbian national team bring the benefit for the game in the country?
M.J.: Only the national team’s success would bring wider recognition for the sport in the country. It would enable us to expand our player base, stabilise existing centres and find potential sponsors. That is why the national team with all the values it carries has to be respected above everything. I am deeply convinced that this is particularly true in rugby league, where sporting and human qualities are being tested all the time.
Q: How do you prepare for upcoming international challenges?
M.J.: We already have lofty ambitions, we commenced our season with preliminary and trial matches in the Risman Cup, where we had the opportunity to see over 40 players. Alongside already proven players, we tested the whole constellation of emerging youngsters. What was pleasing about these matches was two well balanced line-ups. That is followed by the start of the domestic competition, whose new format [a four-team first division and regional second division groups] should lead to more quality matches. That is how we should get a complete picture of our team’s potential before the European Championship B.
Q: A word or two about rivals and expectations from the tournament. The opener is on 17 May versus Ukraine in Belgrade.
M.J.: Our first opponent is the Ukraine national team. They are back at this level after four years, so enter the competition with no limitations. However, we know their mentality and capability and will have to do our best to prepare an appropriate “welcome” to the tournament. I wouldn’t talk too much about Russia and Italy. The Russians are defending champions whom we haven’t beaten yet, while the “Azzurri” will try to build on their excellent World Cup performances and deserve full respect. As I said, our goal is to be on top in two years’ time. I expect from the championship to raise the level of the game in Continental Europe and to attract the attention of the publicity all over the world.