Following two victories at the start of 2017, their initial successes in the international arena – beating Uruguay 50-4 and Thailand 44-10 – Hungary rugby league secured the highest rise in the recently published Rugby League International Federation World Rankings, moving up five places to 33rd.
It comes as the result of a chance coming together in late 2015, which has seen rugby league begin to blossom under the Magyars banner.
Michael Hay began working with the Hungarian Rugby League Federation after finishing his playing career in France, where he’d met a Hungarian and moved to her home country to get married. Since then he has coached the Magyar Bulls national team and improved league knowledge and skills in domestic players.
Around the same time, Stephen Nemeth, a Hungarian citizen born in Australia, contacted the HRLF through Facebook. He had been living in Budapest for five months, grown up playing rugby league in Australia and, as it turned out, he and Hay played against each other.
Nemeth not only had a background in playing but also running a club in Sydney, Australia, with experience in player recruitment, sponsorship and club management and he took on the role of Hungarian Rugby League director in Australia.
Nemeth recruited experienced coach Jonathan Wilson, also based in Sydney, who is now assisting Hay with coaching Hungary’s national team.
“On the back of the international wins, interest in rugby league in Hungary spiked, with record numbers of people enquiring about trying out here,” said HRLF official Zsolt Lukacs.
“As a result, we are planning three more Test matches to be played this year; one against Poland in Budapest and a home and away series with the Czech Republic. For those games there will be four heritage players travelling from Australia to Hungary to work with the domestic players for a month, and assist in developing the domestic game in Hungary.”
Lukacs continued: “In exchange, the HRLF has arranged to have a number of domestic players travel to Australia each year in October or November to play in representative matches there. The Magyar Bulls will compete in the Kings Cup in Thailand over nine days in October where they will receive intense training from Jonathan Wilson as well as Phil Perry and Jayden McGregor, Hungary’s Level 2 and Level 1 trainers.”
For 2018, plans are in place for up to 10 domestic players to join the heritage qualified in Australia for the Emerging Nations Rugby League World Championship, to be played in Sydney during October.
Alongside, HRLF is now putting in place plans to use this increased interest to develop a fully-fledged domestic competition.