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Srama: League can be 'world game'

Tony Webeck, Chief Queensland Correspondent NRL.com Wed, Jan 01, 2014 - 9:00 AM

Jonathan Espinoza (left) and Luke Srama are leading the international expansion of rugby league. Copyright: Tony Webeck

He's a rugby league nomad who has played the game in the United States, England, the Philippines and Queensland, and Luke Srama believes now is the time for rugby league to spread its wings to all corners of the globe.

Srama, older brother of Titans hooker Matt, will link with The Entrance in the New South Wales-based Ron Massey Cup competition in 2014 but before he heads to the Central Coast he'll lead the Philippine Tamaraws out against the Latin Heat in a rugby league international of a different kind at Runaway Bay on the Gold Coast on January 18.

Srama has captained the Philippines to successive Asian Cup wins over Thailand the past two years with the crowd of 150 that turned out in Bangkok in 2012 swelling to more than 1,500 for the return clash at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy Stadium in 2013.

With the possibility of an NRL game being played in China in the near future, Srama has no doubt that further exposure into Asian nations will see an explosion of interest in the game, with Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan in line to participate in future Asian Cup tournaments.

"Growing up you'd never even think about representing Asia so it's a massive achievement not only for ourselves but also our mother and all her family back in the Philippines," Srama tells NRL.com.

"When we played the Asian Cup [in 2012] we went back to the Philippines and did some coaching and visited some orphanages and it was a really big eye-opener. All the Filipinos are used to basketball and boxing with [Manny] Pacquiao but we gave them a few footballs and took them through some coaching clinics and they picked up the game fairly easily.

"It can definitely grow into something big and now they're talking about China and taking [NRL] games there.

"For us to be a world game and the greatest game of all they've got to expand. All the countries around the world, as soon as they see rugby league they fall in love with it. It is the best game in the world and so easy to play compared to union and hopefully now with the World Cup everyone starts putting more time into it."

There are close to 100 million people living in the Philippines who have little to no knowledge of rugby league while in Latin America, the combined population of close to 600 million people have one sporting religion: soccer.

"Central and South Americans, we're all about soccer, that's our major sport, but when we have a group of guys that is interested in rugby and seeing it develop, it's inspiring because we don't have that background," says Latin Heat captain Jonathan Espinoza. 

"Bringing that kind of sport into our culture... one day I could maybe see us playing in the World Cup because we do have the talent. Everyone is on board and pushing it to the limit because they really want to put it on the map, that we can play [rugby league]."

The brainchild of Brisbane-based businessman Rob Burgin, the Latin Heat have been in existence for less than 12 months and draw together players from Latin American nations to play rugby league.

For many of the squad, the Mitchelton Nines tournament in Brisbane in September was not only their first game together as a team, it was their first ever game of rugby league.

There are now some 50 players associated with the Latin Heat squad in Brisbane and Sydney and Espinoza and his teammates are eager to take the game back to their homelands.

"Argentina has their [rugby] union team, Chile also has a union squad and to bring a new game into our culture, I'm pretty sure it's going to be welcomed with open arms," says Espinoza, whose parents are of Nicaraguan and Chilean heritage. 

"We have a lot of people who may not be good at soccer or baseball but they might have the skills for rugby. We want to expose those people [to rugby league] and I think it's going to do wonders. I've seen a couple of the players over there and I definitely know that we could make a good international side."

Click here for more information on the game between the Philippine Tamaraws ad Latin Heat on January 18.