Broncos embrace game's global reach
You would expect a group of passionate rugby league novices to ask most of the questions but when two teams representing some 70 nations attended a Broncos training session it was the seasoned campaigners who went looking for answers.
For the second successive year the PAL Philippines Tamaraws will take on the Latin Heat while a youth Philippines team will play a curtain-raiser against a 'united nations' team consisting of players from Latino and African countries.
Twelve months ago the Latin Heat – a team comprising players of Latin American heritage – played their first 13-man-a-side game against the Philippines at Gold Coast's Runaway Bay. Despite the hefty scoreline against them that night, the Heat have carried forth the enthusiasm of their eclectic group of fans to help drive awareness of the game in South America.
Although they were unable to field a youth team comprised solely of Latin American players, the invitation to players of African heritage – many of whose families have arrived in Australia as refugees – will see nations such as South Sudan represented when the teams take the field at Bishop Park in Brisbane on Saturday.
With words of encouragement from the likes of Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, internationals Adam Blair, Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday and Indigenous All Stars representative Travis Waddell fresh in their ears, the passion for which these largely inexperienced footballers have already displayed is only set to flourish.
As the only fluent Spanish-speaking development officer employed by the National Rugby League and a foundation member of Latin American Rugby League, Colombian-born Daniel Sarmiento makes the game accessible for 470 million people worldwide who boast Spanish as their native tongue and says interest both in Australia and in Latin America is thriving.
"It's amazing how much it has grown, both in terms of players and supporters," said Sarmiento, who captained the Latin Heat in their inaugural clash with the Philippines last year.
"And I'm not just talking about the work we have been doing with the Latino community in Australia –there is also genuine interest from abroad.
"I took some time off in mid 2014 to travel through Latin America and held a few coaching clinics in Mexico and Colombia, as well as speaking with Latinos in the USA.
"Through a lot of other people's hard work they are now playing rugby league regularly in Mexico and my Colombian friends and family are always asking me about how the teams are doing here."
Even though Thaiday has represented Australia 26 times against the likes of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Ireland and the USA he said it was a tantalising prospect to consider just how far the game would potentially reach in years to come.
"As an NRL player you don't really imagine that people in Latin America know much about rugby league so it was great to meet the guys and see just how much passion they have for the game," said Thaiday.
"I'll probably have well and truly hung up the boots but I'd love to think that one day we could get to a point where a Rugby League World Cup features teams from Asia, South America and Africa and the game can grow on a truly global scale.
"There's no reason why those countries couldn't produce quality international teams in time and I'm sure all the different cultural influences will make for a great night on Saturday."
With Chile and El Salvador to participate in the Cabramatta Nines on January 31 for the first time as stand-alone rugby league nations, Sarmiento said the talent at hand is both deep and largely untapped.
"There are two things that have surprised me the most since we began Latin Heat," Sarmiento said.
"One is the amount of guys who were completely foreign to the game that showed up to training week after week and showed so much willingness to learn, even when it can be such a brutal game at times.
"The second fact is there are actually a lot more Latinos out there in Australia that have grown up playing the sport than I could ever have imagined.
"I'd really like to see the game grow to encompass all of South America, but at the same time use it to bind the Latino community here and keep the same tightness we now share."
Saturday's day of multi-cultural league at Bishop Park will feature four games, with the Latin Heat and Philippine Tamaraws meeting in three grades and the Indigenous Wellbeing Centre of Bundaberg facing Queensland Maori.
In the main men’s international match, the Heat and Tamaraws will contest the Magellan Trophy, named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who visited both regions in his historic circumnavigation of the globe.
The Philippines are expected to field former NRL players Shane Gray and Paul Sheedy, as well as rampaging State League forward Rez Phillips and quick-stepping Dennis Gordon, brother of Gold Coast Titan Kevin Gordon.
Latin America's Mexican utility Grantito Chacone will become the first sportsperson to perform the Nahuatl (Aztec) war cry ‘Yaoyotl Och Acelotl’ (The Jaguar Chant) on Australian soil prior to kick-off.
MAGELLAN TROPHY 2015
Saturday January 17, Bishop Park, Nundah
4pm: Youth Game - United Nations (Latin America/Africa) v Philippines.
5.10pm: Men's Development - Latin America v Philippines
6.30pm: Bundaberg Indigenous Wellbeing XIII v Queensland Maori
8pm: International – GYG Latin Heat v PAL Philippines Tamaraws