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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Josh Callinan

Robert Tuliatu's Greek odyssey to rugby league World Cup

Greek representative Robert Tuliatu (top) playing for Cessnock during Newcastle Rugby League's 2020 season. Picture by Marina Neil

It has been quite the odyssey for Robert Tuliatu to reach this World Cup.

His journey involves a Greek ship called the Patris, the Oak Cafe at Freemans Waterhole, Newcastle Rugby League club the Cessnock Goannas, a three-year hiatus since breaking through for qualification and reinvesting tournament payments back to a now legalised home federation.

Tuliatu, a forward on the field and lawyer off it, will proudly represent Greece at the World Cup in England throughout the month of October.

"Ultimately our aim is to play with passion and to make our friends, families and country proud. If we do that, anything else is a bonus," Tuliatu told the Newcastle Herald.

The 27-year-old, a former Rebels representative who won a Newcastle RL premiership with junior club Cessnock in 2020, has been named to start at prop for Greece against France at Doncaster's Eco-Power Stadium on Tuesday (5:30am AEST).

The occasion goes beyond just a regular round-one fixture, making history as Greece's first ever World Cup game.

Reaching this international stage has been quite the journey and involves Tuliatu playing Tests against Serbia and Bulgaria as far back as 2017 plus European Championship matches with Ukraine and Malta in 2018.

World Cup was always the end goal, despite last year's 12-month postponement of the tournament and players scattered across the globe.

A now UK-based Tuliatu, currently linked with the London Broncos, says it all feels a bit "surreal" now competition has finally arrived.

"We qualified in 2019, so it has been over three years and the World Cup has been a constant consideration on all of our minds," the former All Saints College student said.

"In that time I finished my law degree and started working in a firm in Newcastle, but I put that on hiatus to take a contract for the London Broncos to better prepare myself for the World Cup and to be closer to the host nation."

Tuliatu's maternal grandparents, more affectionately known as pappou and yiayia, both originate from Crete and took separate trips on board the Patris from Greece to Australia in the early 1960s.

After finding their way to Newcastle, they eventually owned the Oak Cafe at Freemans Waterhole with Tuliatu saying "I distinctly remember visiting that diner as a child".

"For me to represent their culture and their heritage is an incredibly proud moment," he said.

However, there is a particular clash marked on Tuliatu's calendar, being against Samoa in Doncaster next Monday (October 24, 3am AEST).

"My father is Samoan and I'm equally proud of both of my cultures," he said.

"I won't just be Greek at this World Cup. I'll be representing and carrying myself as Hellenic and Polynesian.

"To represent Greece against Samoa, and take a part of the meeting of these cultures, is an honour."

Tuliatu also recognises the importance of using the World Cup to help continue growing the game in Greece and explains why the squad isn't being paid.

"Greek rugby league have a completely different blue print and metric of success," he said.

"Our federation was recently acknowledged and legalised by the Greek government. Our domestic competition has several thriving teams and our women's team just won the European Championships B against Serbia and Turkey.

"We obviously want to thrive at the highest level, but there is an understanding the game needs to flourish at the grass roots.

"That is one of the reasons our team is not getting paid at this World Cup. The decision was made to reinvest into the federation.

"We have also selected eight players who originated in the Greek domestic competition. And I fully expect each to take the field at the World Cup. They are not token selections. The aim is that these boys take this experience back to Greece and support the game's growth at home."

Greece also tackle hosts England in the preliminary rounds, meeting at Sheffield's Bramall Lane on October 30 (12:30am AEST).

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