Nexe's strong signings back up big dreams
RK Nexe Našice are experiencing their best years in the EHF European League Men and are heading into their 15th consecutive season in European competition. The team from the small city of Našice, in the first years of the revamped second-tier competition, made it to the last 16. Then, in the 2021/22 season, went all the way to the EHF Finals 2022 and last season made it to the quarter-finals.
In this 2023/24 season, Nexe is going all-in with their experienced team which was boosted with a few significant signings. The transfer that shook Croatian news was the arrival of Manuel Štrlek, Croatian international, All-star left wing and 2015/16 EHF Champions League winner with Kielce.
However, Nexe didn't stop there. Reigning Machineseeker Champions League winner with SG Magdeburg, Marko Bezjak, strengthened the centre back position and he will lead the attack alongside experienced Croatian Lovro Jotić. Gal Marguč, Adir Cohen, and youngsters Ognjen Cenić and Loris Hromin will boost the strong Nexe roster.
Vedran Zrnić took over the role of sports director in 2019 after he ended his illustrious career in Nexe and he has positive feelings ahead of the new season.
“On the first day of new season preparations, I said we have high ambitions, that we are looking towards trophies and that we finally have a season when we can dream big both in European competition, in the domestic championship and cup. And we will fight for it. We will repeat it day after day and I hope all our efforts will be seen at the end of the season.”
Even though Nexe's squad has significant changes each summer, especially in crucial positions, they always manage to find new players to shine. After meticulous work by the club's management, Zrnić reveals his thoughts on the team for the 2023/24 season.
“After three years of work, we came to a conclusion about what we are missing in the squad and we found players that would complete our squad. They are players with great renown in the handball world and will bring that international experience to our side. My thoughts about the team are we have a strong team with each position covered well. Any player that enters the court will keep the intensity high.”
Among the strong signings is Croatian international Lovro Jotić who is coming back from five year abroad. After playing for Aalborg Håndbold and RK Zagreb, he moved to Eurofarm Pelister, then Vardar 1961 before heading to Germany in 2021 to taste the Bundesliga with SC DHfK Leipzig.
“I like how Nexe are working and the progress they made in recent years. Each season they made another step further in all segments. That was one of the reasons I decided the come back to Croatia. Also, I will become a father and it works for my family to be closer to home,” says Jotić.
The 28-year-old centre back, known for his hard-working ethics, will share the court minutes with the experienced Marko Bezjak and once again play with his national team friend Štrlek, players he only has praise for.
“I know Marko from the Bundesliga and just the fact that he won the Champions League title a few months ago speaks for itself. His experience will be of great importance to the team. And there is no need to talk about Štrlek. Coming from Telekom Veszprem with years and years of playing at the high level, I think we all make a great team alongside players who are still here from last season.”
Jotić is filled with enthusiasm and has a positive feeling about the upcoming season as well as the club's ambitions. Looking back to the results in recent years, Nexe and the whole city of Našice, have full right to dream big.
“For me personally, the most important thing is to be injury-free and play good. Up until the last season I never had any problems and last year I had two injuries that cost me. I want to deliver this season to reach the clubs' ambitions. Of course, we are waiting for the Croatian championship and/or cup.”
“In Europe, we have a good group and I think we can fight for the first spot in the group. It's easy to talk when you are watching the opponents on paper and different when you meet them face-to-face on the court. Having a direct spot in the group phase without having to play qualification rounds is a big recognition for the club. I know we will do our best to go as further as we can,” concludes Jotić ahead of the season's start.
Photo credit: Ivan Ćosić and Siniša Kulišić