With the announcement earlier this month that the Victoria Thunderbolts will be rebranded under the Melbourne Storm name, the future is looking bright for Victorian juniors coming through the ranks.
While the chapter that is the Victoria Thunderbolts will close, it doesn’t mean those that pulled on the Thunderbolts jersey will forget just what it meant to them as a youngster.
Victoria has been represented on the world stage at this year’s Rugby League World Cup, with a number of former Victorian representatives getting the call up to play for the respective countries.
The following players have taken part in the World Cup after playing down in Victoria earlier in their careers; Zev John (PNG 2018), Nicholas Flocas (Greece 2018-2019), Khalil Rahme (Lebanon 2020), Kelma Tuilagi (Samoa 2018), Daniel Atkinson (Italy 2020-2021) Tino Fa'asuamaleaui (Australia 2018) and Terry Constantinou (Greece).
Nic Flocas, Victoria’s most capped junior representative player, has just returned from representing Greece at their history Rugby League World Cup campaign.
Flocas joined former Victoria Thunderbolts coaching staff, Terry Constantinou, in the squad that took on England, Samoa and France at this year’s tournament.
Paired up as roommates on the trip, it was a fitting chance for both men who once had a coach and players relationship, to now reconnect as teammates after several years.
Having played in Victoria all the way from Under 12’s to Under 20’s, Flocas has since found a home up in QLD, notching up 17 games for the Ipswich Jets over the past two seasons in the Intrust Super Cup.
With his grandfather moving across to Australia from the Greek island of Ithaca, Flocas said he felt extremely proud to pull on the Greek Jersey in what was the nations inaugural World Cup appearance.
“It’s great to represent the family name of Flocas and all the sacrifices my father and grandfather had to go through for us to grow up in Australia," Flocas said.
"To be able to still be in touch with my heritage and go back and appreciate my culture is something I really value,” he said.
It’s a tradition for any new player in the Greek setup to perform a song or dance in front of the group, with Flocas choosing to give a rousing rendition of the Victoria Thunderbolts team song he used to sing as a teenager.
When quizzed on why he chose the Thunderbolts song, Flocas said he was proud to say he grew up playing rugby league in Victoria and his time in the Thunderbolts program meant a lot to him.
“In most football team’s new players have got to do an initiation and while some of the boys performed well known songs, here I was belting out the Thunderbolt team song with no one else singing along because they didn’t know the words,” he said.
“I'm proud of where I come from and where I started playing rugby league, I’ll always be TBolt #17 and to be the most capped player is something I’ll always hold my hat on,” he said.
“Coming through the Victorian system, I'm thankful for the coaches that I've had throughout the years and were lucky enough to be together for a number of years so we grew together and got better as the years went on.”
Flocas said the chance to play alongside Constantinou, who played for the Waverley Oakleigh Panthers in the Storm Premiership Men’s First Grade this year, was almost like the perfect Hollywood script.
“While it was a different relationship going from coach/player to now teammates, we got to reconnect and we were probably in each other's pockets for the whole trip so you could almost write a movie about it!” Flocas said.
“Terry he’s been a part of it for 10 years, so I just tried to learn off him and he touched on all of the history and what they've put they had to go for Greece to make their first World Cup.”
“I didn't want to come into camp and be disrespectful as I wasn't owed anything, so the most important thing I told myself was to respect those who have worn the jersey before me and gotten us to the fortunate position we are in today.”
Flocas highlighted the importance of recognising the work and sacrifices that the players and staff before him did in order to make their World Cup dream a reality.
He hopes he can use his experience to help guide the next crop of young Greek players coming through to ensure Greek rugby league can build off the back of this year’s success.
“Not too many people get to experience a World Cup and so if I can use some of the things I've picked up from some of the boys like Lachlan Ilias, Billy Magoulias and Peter Mamouzelos then I'll definitely be passing that on to the next generation of Greek talent wherever I can."