COLOMBIAN Fernando Villegas typifies all that is good about the GYG Latin Heat Rugby League program.
One of the original three players to show up for Latin Heat training when the concept was born in July 2013, Fernando will unfortunately have to leave Australia this month due to the restrictions of his visa.
But while the Australian squad loses a very popular and courageous foundation member, it will gain a global ambassador in the charismatic and fluently bi-lingual Villegas.
Although having never played rugby league before, in the space of a few months Villegas racked up several international appearances for Latin America – facing the Philippines, Portugal, Japan and Greece.
“Certainly one of the proudest moments in our short history was seeing Fernando score his first try at any level of rugby league versus Japan,” said GYG Heat director Robert Burgin.
“As much as we exist to show there are Latinos out there capable of playing rugby league at the highest level, we take great pride in giving opportunities to newcomers like Fernando who are brave enough to give the game a go.
“Fernando was also very comfortable with the media and it was from his interviews with SBS TV and Radio that we gained many new players and supporters in a short space of time.
“As much as anybody involved with Latin Heat, it was his early passion and enthusiasm that sustained us when we were finding our feet.”
Another crowning moment from Villegas’s involvement with the team was a last-minute attempt at a try against host club Mitchelton in the quarter finals of the 2013 Mitchelton Nines tournament.
Displaying his speed and athleticism, skilled soccer player Villegas dove at full stretch to try and ground a kick that would have won the game, but was just beaten to the dead-ball line in a heart-stopping moment.
Though he leaves behind many new friends in Australia and will be sorely missed, he will remain a part of Latin American Rugby League history, no matter his next move.
Seguro viaja Fernando! Fuego Latino!