POWERHOUSE TEAM: Phil Economidis (back, second from right) and the Red Star Belgrade rugby league team in Serbia that claimed the Serbian Rugby League Championship, the Serbian Supercup, Serbian Rugby League Cup and Balkan Super League.
POWERHOUSE TEAM: Phil Economidis (back, second from right) and the Red Star Belgrade rugby league team in Serbia that claimed the Serbian Rugby League Championship, the Serbian Supercup, Serbian Rugby League Cup and Balkan Super League. Contributed

TRL coach leads Serbian team to historic feat

Phil Economidis has tackled many challenges in the rugby league caper both locally and abroad.

The newly appointed Pittsworth Danes coach recently returned home after a successful stint as leader of Red Star Belgrade in Serbia.

The team took out the Serbian Rugby League Championship, the Serbian Supercup, Serbian Rugby League Cup and Balkan Super League during his short stint in Europe.

"It was a historic year for Red Star and we basically went through undefeated in the four grades that we won," Economidis said.

"A player I used to coach in France, Troy Perkins, is coaching in England now and knew the boss of Red Star.

"He knew they were looking for a coach and recommended me. Red Star owner Colin Kleyweg was adamant I go over there, so as soon as my commitments finished here I was on the plane.

"I was really surprised with the standard of play. It was really good and they were a great bunch of people to work with.

"After I finished, they sent me a message saying my DNA will stay there with what I introduced.

"They were like sponges - everything I put into place they absorbed it and they were really receptive."

With the Balkan Super League taking in clubs from Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Montenegro among others, Economidis said travelling to one of the world's most populous cities remained a highlight.

"We travelled to Turkey to play against Istanbul, and that was a great experience," he said.

"To play in a city with more than 15 million people, that was an eye-opener. We had a 13-hour bus ride and when you go on a four or five day tour, it brings the team closer together."

The sport of rugby league is growing so fast in Serbia to the extent they are currently ranked 17th in the world, and Economidis said that would only continue to rise after Red Star's latest feat in being accepted into the Rugby Football League Challenge Cup.

"When I see the world rankings I think they should be a bit higher than that, and the national team should still be in qualifying for the World Cup," he said.

"When they had to play Russia they had trouble getting visas, and a lot of the Australian-based players couldn't play.

"Red Star has been accepted into the Challenge Cup, and it shows the level of talent that is over there."

Economidis will take up the reins of Pittsworth in 2019 after guiding Warwick to the TRL semi finals this season, and said there was interest from members of the squad in playing in Australia.

"Several players have said they wanted to come over and play in the TRL," he said.

"We're checking the criteria for sponsorship, but they would go really well over here. They're good athletes.

"Three of the players in the side are near two-metres tall, and there were a few dual internationals as well."