The history of official international games of the Nederlandse Rugby League Bond dates back to 2013, because the NRLB was finally granted Observer Status from the RLEF (current ERL) on February 28th 2012. There is one important distinction that has to be made, and that is about the difference between development team, Dutch select XIII and our official national team the Dutch Lions XIII. Matches of the latter are the only ones officially branded as internationals but the ‘unofficial’ games were/are just as important a part in our development as a Rugby League nation hence they are included in this history section. There were internationals played before 2009 but under a different governing body than the NRLB. If interested you can find those under the ..[name of place].
Before May 4th 2013 there were no official International games played under the NRLB board, only development games against Durham University and Oxford University. With the latter it had been an annually game for over ten years, set up by our predecessors. For the 10th anniversary of the game our development team travelled to Oxford and played them there. In 2016 and 2018 a group of Dutch Select players also traveled abroad to play the Budapest Nines and to play against the Culcheth Eagles in Warrington respectively.
History was written on May 4th when the Dutch national team traveled to Heidelberg, Germany to play the first ever international match recognized by the RLEF, under the NRLB board, against our German friends. The game was ultimately lost 28-22, but it set the tone for a friendly relationship between the nations for the upcoming years. Rugby League Deutschland vice president Uwe Jansen said: “We hope to make this game an annual tradition. We will visit the Netherlands next year, and defend the trophy the Netherlands team brought with them, called the Griffin Cup.“ The Griffin is a mythological creature, half eagle – the symbol of Germany – half Lion – the Dutch national animal. The NRLB is very proud to state that it was indeed made an annual game since 2013. Even in 2020, the most challenging year of all thanks to Covid-19, the game could proceed thanks to all the hard work and efforts of members and volunteers of the NRLB and the NRLD.
About two months later the Netherlands played their first ever international game against Belgium, at Delft, Nederland. Result was 6-22 win for the Belgians. But, as Netherlands coach Jason Bruygoms put it: ”It was a great day for rugby league in our part of the world, with two neighboring & developing nations helping each other grow. On the day Belgium were hungrier for the win and too many basic mistakes were made by the Dutch, but we will go away from this match with eyes wide open as we move toward building from the experience”. The match between the Dutch and the Belgians would be played annually for four years until 2017.
On May 30th 2014 Kane Krlic was appointed as new Head Coach for the National Team and took over the responsibilities of Jason Bruygoms. Kane came from the UK and worked for the RFL and Sheffield Eagles RLFC as a Community Officer for a number of years. During this time, he coached Sheffield Eagles u20s and Scholarship, coached on the Midlands RFL Pathway and University of Derby Head Coach as well as coaching numerous community teams. This would turn out to be an incredible signing that would greatly influence and shape the progress with and winning streak of the National Team. The NRLB is very happy and proud to announce that Kane is still Head Coach of the National Team today, shaping and developing our players for more than 6 years now.
This was an historic year for the NRLB and the National Team. It was the year that the drought was broken and the National Team started their winning streak, but it was also the year that James Geurtjens came over, that the selection of the National team was based on a series of friendly games against the Royal Airforce Regiment RL and that the National Team played their first ever international game against Sweden. The NRLB also partnered with Guus Kootstra, (now of FlinkFysiotherapie), to ensure the National Team players were looked after. He was assisted by Stephanie van Diepen.
The first game against the RAF was located in Amsterdam on June 17th, the second in The Hague on June 21st and the third in Harderwijk on June 25th. Even though all three games showed the huge gap in the level of play between the RAF & the Dutch sides, the Dutch players enjoyed the chance to play a top quality side. The NRLB thanks Shaun Griffin, his staff & the RAF Regiment Rugby League team for making the tour happen.
James Geurtjens, a prop for the Coventry Bears in Betfred League One, came over to the Netherlands to play against Germany on August 26th in Osnabrück, Germany. Geurtjens was eligible because his grandfather was of Dutch heritage. His knowledge and communicative skills inspired and improved many of our domestic players. Together with the great tactics put in place by Kane Krlic that resulted in an impressive and historic win of 18-30. Head Coach Kane Krlic said: “It is great to get our first win in 11 years this Saturday. A much needed win for the boys, after three years of taking the step to develop from the “bottom up”.
Another historic feature of the 2017 International Campaign was the International game against Sweden played at the NRCA Stadion in Amsterdam on September 9th. Ultimately the Dutch Lions XIII defeated the visiting Swedes 28-24. Both teams scored early tries but the Dutch eventually built a healthy lead of 22-12 by half time. Sweden fought back in the second half but the Netherlands managed to remain in front to register a famous victory in the first Test between the two sides.
The National Team remained victorious in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 campaigns, in which they only played Germany and Sweden.
This year was undoubtingly the hardest year for the National Team playing only one International due to Covid-19. There were big plans made with four International games; two against Turkey for the European Championship D, and our annually games against Germany and Sweden with the Sweden game to be played at Craven Park of Hull Kingston Rovers. There was also a development friendly scheduled against Southern England Rugby League. All had to be postponed to 2022, but the game against Germany looked promising to be played. The situation was closely monitored by the NRLB and the NRLD but the rules allowed for this match to be played, so all involved with both parties did whatever they could do in order to pull it off. There were three changes in venue a week prior to the game, but ultimately the game was played at RC Zwolle, the home base of newfound club the Zwolle Wolves. An historic feature was that the game was the first ever game of the Dutch Lions XIII to be broadcasted live. The Germans came to play but in the end the Netherlands claimed the win and lifted the Griffin Cup for the 4th consecutive year.
Unfortunately Covid-19 is still active which causes a lot of uncertainty whether or not the National Team will be allowed to play. For now, the European Championship is still scheduled to happen on October this fall but all is possible here. If the NRLB gets the green light from the municipality and the RIVM there will be more international games on.