From Chilean firing line to rugby league pioneer

Today a true pioneer of Latino rugby league has agreed to join the Guzman y Gomez Latin Heat staff, with Ernie Tobar becoming the coaching co-ordinator for the Heat’s Sydney-based players.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Ernie is a former Penrith junior representative player and currently assists the Panthers under-17 development squad.

Ernie’s family were among the many Chileans who sought refuge after dictator Augusto Pinochet rose to power in the 1970s, with as many as 30,000 citizens tortured during Pinochet’s reign.

In finding a better life in Australia, Tobar also fell in love with rugby league – and in particular with the Western Suburbs Magpies.

“I can’t remember too many Latinos at all playing when I was growing up,” says Ernie, now a mechanical engineer for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.

“It wasn’t something you did at the time…I don’t know whether you could call it segregation, but most South Americans stuck to soccer because it was the expected thing

“My group of friends at school were all into rugby league, but I can tell you my Dad wasn’t happy at all when I started playing.

“These days my father never misses a game, so it shows you the potential is there and that’s why I believe in what the Latin Heat is doing.”

Ernie’s own son Brandon, 17, is a player on the rise and a member of the GYG Latin Heat’s development squad.

Though Ernie says one of his idols growing up was former Wests halfback Tommy Raudonikis, he promises none of Tommy’s face-slapping techniques in his coaching.

Those in New South Wales interested in playing for the GYG Latin Heat (of South or Central American ancestry) should contact Ernie ASAP on ernietobar@hotmail.com

Players in Queensland or any other region should contact Robert Burgin on robert@sambatimes.com for training details and further information.

The GYG Latin Heat has proposed a January 18 international against Philippines to be played at Runaway Bay on the Gold Coast, Australia, pending sanctioning from the game’s governing bodies.