In the lead up to the new NRL season, we look at the contributions of prominent Greek-Australian rugby league players, administrators and the next big hopeful.
The pioneer of Greek Australian Rugby League players is George Peponis or more specifically Dr George Peponis. Peponis made his debut for Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs in 1974 and played in the Grand Final loss to Eastern Suburbs all while still studying for his Bachelor of Medicine at University of NSW.
He first became Bulldogs captain in 1978 and lead the side on 71 occasions including the 1980 Grand Final win over the Roosters. He played eight tests for Australia including five undefeated games as captain.
Dr. Peponis still practises medicine and was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for achievement and meritorious service for his contribution to rugby league.
The 1970’s saw another Greek Australian come to prominence in Rugby League circles. But rather than a player, this time it was businessman Nick Politis. According to the 2017 Australian Financial Review’s Rich List, Politis has an estimated wealth of $773 million. As the owner of the City Ford Group he became the first ever sponsor of a Rugby League club when in 1976 his company’s name was emblazoned on the Eastern Suburbs jersey.
While he became Chairman of the Sydney Roosters in 1993, it’s his tattoo after the Roosters won the 2002 premiership that cements his love for his club.
Inspired by Peponis’ success, more Greek-Australian Rugby League players started to make their mark in Rugby League in the late 80’s and 90’s. This included Jim Sedaris and Steve Georgalis. Like Peponis, Sedaris played hooker and at the end of his first season for Souths was awarded the 1989 Rookie of the Year. A stint at the Bulldogs was followed by a move to Western Suburbs and it was during this time he played his one and only test for Australia. His club career highlight was winning the Grand Final for Manly against St George in 1996.
The Head Coach
Georgalis’ 229 club games are mainly respected for his ability with the ball and never say die attitude on the field. He has the distinction of being the first Greek Australian to be a head coach of an NRL team but his tenure with the Penrith Panthers lasted only 11 games during the 2012 season. He also coached the Greek National Rugby League team on a number of occasions including the 90-0 win over Hungary in 2013.
The Fan Favorite
The Noughties saw the emergence of Braith Anasta who many argue is the most talented Greek Australian footballer of recent times. Anasta made his debut for the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2001 when he was just 18 years old. It turned into a big year for the youngster when he won the Dally M Rookie of the Year and played on the Kangaroo Tour of England at the end of the season.
A fan favourite, he was a key player in the Bulldogs squad that won the 2004 Grand Final against the Sydney Roosters. As well as playing four times for Australia, Anasta played for Greece in their first official test in 2013 in a 90-0 win over Hungary.
Other notable mentions include John Skandalis George Gatis, Michael Korkidas, and Nick Kouparitsas who also played in the NRL over the last decade as well as representing Greece.
Many are tipping Cronulla junior Billy Magoulias to be the next big thing and even though the 21-year-old Greek Australian has not played first grade as yet, he’s expected to make his mark this season.