Red Star Belgrade – the club that lit up European football in the late-1980s and 1990s with stars like Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojkovic, Dejan Savicevic and Robert Prosinecki – have a new mission: to lift rugby league’s Challenge Cup.
Inspired by French side Catalans Dragons’ success in winning the oldest knock-out trophy in the rugby league code, the Serbian club have formally applied to join the competition for 2019.
The sporting society at the Red Star club have backed the 13-man code, and now Red Star Belgrade Rugby League Club or ‘Crvena Zvezda’ as they are known in their native language – could take their first steps on the road to Wembley next year.
To prove their worth to the Rugby Football League, they have invited league clubs in Britain to challenge them to friendly matches and set up a membership scheme to raise funds to grow the sport.
In their heyday, before the former Yugoslavia dissolved into a devastating civil war that led to independence for its member states, Red Star Belgrade’s football side won the the 1991 European Cup, and brought through talent that would go onto join the best in Europe.
Savicevic and Stojkovic played for AC Milan, while Prosinecki and Predrag Mijatovic wore the colours of Real Madrid, and Sinisa Mihailovic and Vladimir Jugovic were teammates at Sampdoria.
Rugby league’s growing horizons
For a sport often accused of being moored in the ‘M62 corridor’ across Lancashire and Yorkshire, rugby league increasingly has broadened its horizons.
Catalans Dragons from Perpignan and Toulouse fly the French flag these days, while Canadian side Toronto Wolfpack joined the competition last season and have been a runaway success with League One and Championship league leaders’ honours.
In terms of the Challenge Cup, despite not having a professional league or teams, Scotland have been represented by Aberdeen Warriors, while other French clubs such Pia Donkeys, Villeneuve and Saint Gaudens have competed.
Serbian rugby league has been in existence since the 1950s when it was introduced to the former Yugoslavia, while the national team are currently 17th in the international rankings.
Red Star, Dorcol and Partizan Belgrade are among the top clubs in the Serbian league.
Doncaster’s Jason Muranka is a Serbia international, while there are Australians of Serb descent in the elite southern hemisphere National Rugby League.
Manly Sea Eagles brothers Jake and Tom Trbojevic both play for the Australian Kangaroos national team, while Brisbane Broncos centre Tom Opacic has also played first-grade.