This new three-match series brings the cream of Serbian rugby league to the top... of an empty stadium.
Prior to the 1980s, the Australian rugby league interstate representative series between New South Wales and Queensland saw players represent the state where their current club was based. This meant that, as Queensland produced top quality players but had much poorer clubs than the rich Sydney teams, many native Queenslanders would be forced to pull on the blue NSW jersey and compete against the maroon QLD shirt of their homeland.
Queensland's frustration led to the birth of the State of Origin concept in 1980, which pitted "state against state", but also "mate against mate", with players from the same rich Sydney clubs competing against one another in a ferocious contest over three 80-minute battles.
In addition to Australian āstate pride', the State of Origin series is also viewed as an informal trial series for the Australian national team, with players often directly opposing their archrival for the national team shirt on the field, thus adding to the intensity of the fixtures.
The Serbian Origin Cup (Kup Srbije po poreklu) has a similar concept, with players' places of birth determining whether they will represent 'Belgrade' or the 'Rest of Serbia'.
The Serbian series also certainly pits mate against mate, as was the case in last weekend's first game of the 2012 series, which saw the Red Star club represented by six āBelgrade' native players and five āRest of Serbia' players.
Though there were a number of regular Serbia internationals missing from the teams, most notably from the Dorcol club, the match was a highly entertaining and highly competitive encounter. (here's the match report in Serbian:Ā http://www.ragbiliga.rs/sr/vesti/12-40.htm)
The final whistle saw Belgrade take a 1:0 lead in the series with a 40:26 victory and the remainder of the series looks set to entertain... if anyone actually turns up to watch!
Indeed, my only disappointment was the seeming lack of any sort of promotion. We at Red Star only found out where the match would be played 48 hours ahead of kick-off and I only found out precisely which of my players had been selected less than 24 hours before the match. It was as though it was all a closely guarded federation secret. And it might well have been, because almost nobody turned up to watch.
The venue, Sports Centre INGE, is a decent pitch and its terraces offer stunning views of the city, but it's not well known among Belgraders or foreign residents and is hidden away on one of Belgrade's forested hills.
My only hope is that Game II in the series will be well-advertised and played elsewhere, preferably at Ada or in Novi Sad during EXIT. If it is, I'm prepared to print and distribute fliers and promotional material there myself the day before the match and on the day itself.
Our sport is a great spectacle and has already gained appreciation and support in Serbia among the people who have actually managed to see it, but failure to properly promote such an important, relatively high-quality domestic series and expose more people to the game is just another missed opportunity.
Check out INGE's empty terraces for yourself: