Serbia face France for the first time in a Test match this afternoon at the NC Makis Stadium in Belgrade (kick off 3pm CET).
The match marks both the 65th anniversary of rugby league first being played in the former Yugoslavia, when two sides from France launched the sport, and the centenary commemorations of the end of the First World War, when French and Serbian forces liberated the country.
The nations will play for the Marshal Franchet d’Espèrey Cup.
For the hosts, the historic clash is part of their preparations for the forthcoming European Championship B matches with Russia and Spain, which also double as qualifiers for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England.
In the build up, their top selection defeated Wales Dragonhearts 22-20 on Wednesday and a side made up of domestic-only players went down to the same opponents 50-4 at the NC Makis Stadium yesterday.
Serbian head coach Brett Davidson commented: “It is a great privilege to have a chance to play France and an even greater honour to mark the centenary of the liberation of Serbia in the First World War. Coming from Australia, this has the same feeling as the Anzacs back home, a very special moment in history will be celebrated and we are all very proud to play a part.
“We are in the final stages of preparations for the World Cup games and having this chance to play such a quality opposition is invaluable to us, to assess where we are and where we can improve. We are looking forward to a tough match, the bond amongst the players has been amazing, we are in a great place.”
The French 19-man squad arrived from Montpellier in a charted plane usually used by Catalans Dragons and trained at the stadium yesterday evening. Albi RL hooker William Ousty, who was due to make his debut was forced to pull out due to a damaged disc in his back.
He is replaced by Carcassonne XIII’s Mathieu Khedimi in a squad that includes four players from Toulouse Olympique along with Batley’s Louis Jouffret.
Serbia have named a 20-man squad for the game including Vladica Nikolic who plays his club rugby for Villeneuve Leopards.
The game is being live-streamed by the French Federation on their website at – https://www.ffr13.fr/ffrxiii-tv/
Ancien de l’Ecole Supérieure de Journalisme et de l’Ecole des hautes études internationales, à Paris. Rédacteur en chef de Planète XIII, collabore à l’Equipe.