Serbia rugby league is celebrating the first game played in the country, which took place 65 years ago yesterday.
On 26 September 1953, 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 – today FC Partizan Belgrade’s ground – between the French youth national team and one from the University of Marseilles (Provence Region) in front of around 8,000 spectators. The young French won 44-41, having led 23-13 at half time, to widespread acclaim.
Club matches followed and Yugoslavia was 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 the inaugural event, on Sunday 7 October 2018, Serbia and France will meet in a Test match at the NC Makis stadium.
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 Serbian Army; the winning team being presented with the Marshal Franchet d’Espèrey Cup.
Before that, Serbia will play two matches against Wales Dragonhearts, made up of players from the community competitions in the principality, on 3 October 2018 at FC Heroj Polet stadium and three days later at the NC Makis stadium.
The Serbian coaching staff will use the trio of games as final preparations before their European Championship B matches with Russia and Spain, the Serbians defending the trophy they won in 2015, those encounters also doubling up as qualifiers for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.