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“My coach is Greek, my manager is Greek, the chairman of the club is Greek and one of my best mates is Greek”.

That's how halfback Lachlan Ilias summed up the Greek influence at Souths, whose players will celebrate the NRL’s Multicultural Round by each bringing a dish representing their heritage to Saturday’s recovery session after their clash with Sydney Roosters, which coincides with Greek Independence Day.

Ilias, who is set to play halfback for Greece at the end-of-season World Cup in England, is one of just three current Greek NRL players, including close mate and Souths team-mate and close friend, Peter Mamouzelos.

In fact, there are more administrators of Greek heritage, headed by ARLC chairman Peter V’landys, Roosters supremo Nick Politis, Rabbitohs chairman Nick Pappas, his Wests Tigers counterpart Lee Hagipantelis, Parramatta Eels CEO Jim Sarantinos and former NSWRL chairman George Peponis.

Peter Mamouzelos celebrates his NRL debut with family and friends
Peter Mamouzelos celebrates his NRL debut with family and friends ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Souths coach Jason Demetriou also boasts Greek heritage, as does Ilias’s manager Braith Anasta, a Rabbitohs junior, who is the nephew of former captain, coach, chairman and the man widely regarded as one of the saviours of the club, George Piggins.

“I am at a club that has a big supporter base so no matter who you are the fans at Souths appreciate you,” Ilias said. “There are not many Greek players out there, but we have got a few here at Souths. Hopefully we can get a good side for the World Cup and do our country proud.”

The rookie playmaker, who has been earmarked as the long term replacement for departed halfback Adam Reynolds, has Greek heritage through his father Arthur, whose parents immigrated to Australia at a young age.

“My grandfather was from Evia, which is an island east of the mainland, and my grandmother is from the south,” Ilias said. “They came over separately and they met here, but they pretty much left their families and everything in Greece.”

Ilias’s parents initially steered him towards soccer before his interest in league took over, and Demetriou and Pappas also have a family connection to the round-ball game.

“I just got into rugby league by chance,” Demetriou said. “I went down to the local park and they were playing rugby league so I asked if I could play. My dad played as a young fellow, although he was coaching soccer at the time. I think most Greek parents would rather their kids play soccer.”

With his grandfather owning a Greek pastry shop in Alexandria and his father attending JJ Cahill High in Mascot, the much- travelled Demetriou feels at home coaching South Sydney.

Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou and captain Cameron Murray
Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou and captain Cameron Murray ©Matt Roberts/NRL Photos

Demetriou spent most of his playing career in the Super League with Widnes and Wakefield before taking up coaching at Keighley.

“I should have played twice for Greece before I retired but off-season surgery stopped me,” Demetriou said. “Probably the one regret I had during my career was not being able to represent Greece.

“I am looking forward to seeing the guys represent Greece in the World Cup. I think [coach] Steve Georgallis has done a great job and they will have a decent team as well.”

Rabbitohs hooker Peter Mamouzelos helped Greece qualify for the World Cup
Rabbitohs hooker Peter Mamouzelos helped Greece qualify for the World Cup ©IRL

Rookie Rabbitohs fullback Chase Robinson and centre Nick Mougios, who played Jersey Flegg alongside Ilias and Mamouzelos, are also expected to be in the Greece team for the World Cup, alongside Parramatta’s Sam Loizou.

“I’m delighted that we have players like Lachlan Ilias and Peter Mamouzelos coming through, and that we have got a Greek Cypriot coach but at the end of the day we are all Australians,” said Pappas, whose father’s parents immigrated from Kastellorizo in the 1920s.

“We are proud of our origins, particularly with Greece being the birthplace of democracy and all of those things, but at the end of the day Australia has given us so many opportunities and we are very fortunate that our parents or grandparents or great grandparents chose to migrate here and find peace and prosperity in this fantastic country.

“My father’s family settled originally in Randwick when they migrated after the war and they quickly latched onto the Rabbitohs.

"During grand final week in the late 1960s and early 1970s every paper shop was full of the colours of a particular club in grand final week and there were sayings in the shop windows like ‘Souths are great in ’68’ and ‘Souths are fine in ‘69’.  

“Even though my father was involved in a soccer club in those days, there was a yearning among my generation for something different and we found that in rugby league. There is a continuous thread that runs through the club and goes back to those early, pioneering migrants.”

While Peponis, Anasta, Peter Peters, Jim Serdaris and John Skandalis made their mark on the field, it is in the administration of the game where Greeks have had the greatest influence.

“Greeks like sport, they have got great sport stars all around the world, and I think Greeks like getting into the politics of sport as well so they like the administration side,” Pappas said.

“There is also an ambition to contribute to a club. There is always a yearning within many Greeks to contribute administratively as well and you couldn’t see any better example of that than with Peter V’landys. He is a whirlwind.”

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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