BRAD Fittler’s Rugby League World Cup underdogs Lebanon will be a source of inspiration for both Uruguay and El Salvador when they go head-to-head in western Sydney the day before the NRL grand final.
Currently ranked in the bottom five nations by the Rugby League International Federation, the two evenly-matched sides can look to Fittler’s Cedars as a reason to continue dreaming big.
With a population of just under six million people, Lebanon has a comparative population to both Latin American nations.
The Mediterranean nation also took its first steps in the sport with a team comprised predominantly of an Australian-based diaspora, before a domestic league took hold in the homeland.
“Lebanon is now into its 10th year of playing international rugby league and they provide a great example for minnow nations starting out,” Latin American Rugby League co-founder Robert Burgin said.
“El Salvador and Uruguay both have a similar model, in that their early teams have been comprised of mainly Latin American expatriates who came to Australia as refugees or migrants, and their children.
“It’s something the teams do cop criticism for, but it is part of a bigger scheme and we have been working in both nations identifying people who can help transfer that into domestic developments.
“I can tell you – whatever people’s perceptions may be – that the players on both sides of this clash have a genuine, deep-seated pride in their heritage and this particular match-up has been eagerly anticipated in the Latino community.”
Both Uruguay and El Salvador can look to the teams playing directly before them at Liverpool All Saints on Saturday, September 30 – Chile and Thailand – for an example of what the next step looks like.
While both are still a long way short of Lebanon and a World Cup appearance, they have consolidated their presence on the international scene with impressive growth in their domestic competitions.
Chile currently has the largest league of any nation in South America, with 13 teams being established in a little over a year, while Thailand has eight clubs to give it the largest domestic rugby league base in Asia.
The nations are both smarting after last-up losses to Eastern European sides, with Chile losing 56-0 to Poland, and Thailand losing 44-10 to Hungary in successive weeks in February.
“We’re naming this event ‘The Rise of the Underdogs’ because we’re embracing the fact all participating teams have a long way to go, but plenty of determination to one day get there,” Burgin said.
“With Chile playing Thailand, Uruguay playing El Salvador, and an earlier game featuring combined Latin American and Asian development teams, we have purposely scheduled three games that should be very evenly matched.
“I’d implore anyone in town for the NRL Grand Final to come out and experience the unique atmosphere of developing nations rugby league.
“Aside from the excitement and the multicultural aspect, it’s one of those great sporting events that no matter who wins, you are pleased for your opposition in a sense, because they’re all fighting the same fight.”
The combined Latin American Development team playing in the first tackle game of the day at 3pm will be comprised of Latinos of all nationalities from outside Uruguay, El Salvador and Chile.
Similarly, the ASEAN team will combine a host of nationalities representing from Japan in the north to Indonesia in the south.
A series of short mixed tag games will be held throughout the day before the full-contact games to ensure a means of participation for all ages and genders.
The day’s events will help put the spotlight on the Latin American Rugby League Championships happening in Santiago, Chile on November 18-19 – the first 13-a-side multinational competition involving domestic players from across Central and South America.
The 100% volunteer-run Latin American Rugby League is supported by Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerias, Brisbane City Council, Shield Security Pty Ltd, Tattoo Tears, One Big Switch, Cast Graphics, Serious About Rugby League, Retro-Com Digital TV Specialists, Colombianos en Brisbane, EMSA Education and Migration Services Australia, Raw Juicery, SEMCAR Mechanics, Lichtnauer and Associates Accountants, Cabramatta Ink Tattoo, Majestic Property Maintenance, musician Royal El ‘ Latino, Radio Austral and Fighting For Fitness Gym.
RISE OF THE UNDERDOGS
Saturday, September 30
Liverpool All Saints
Hillier Oval, Liverpool
Oztag Exhibition 1 (mixed all ages)
Latin America (Latin Heat – all Latino nationalities eligible) V ASEAN (Composite ASIA-PACIFIC) – tackle
Oztag Exhibition 2 (mixed all ages)
Chile V Thailand – full International tackle rules for RLIF points
Oztag Exhibition 3 (mixed all ages)
El Salvador V Uruguay – full International tackle rules for RLIF points