A WILLING first half in the Liberty Cup battle between teams representing Latin America and North America gave a glimpse of what could one day become a great rugby league rivalry.
After the first 40 minutes of action, the score was 18-4 to the CanAm Grizzlies (Canada and USA) over the GYG Latin American Heat.
To that point both territory and possession were well-contested, and although the Grizzlies still had the upper hand, the Latinos were not starved of scoring opportunities.
Former Central Florida teammates Roderigus Caesar and Sterling Wynn both scored hat-tricks for the Grizzlies, while Jay Florimo – son of rugby league legend Brett Florimo – was outstanding.
The CanAm team contained two players from the last World Cup – Danny Howard and David Marando – plus a handful with a strong chance of figuring at next year’s tournament.
Chilean debutant Daniel Aguirre Acevedo was brilliant off the bench for the Latin Americans, while props Juan Carlos Carrion and Eduardo Wegener shouldered a heavy workload in defence.
Backrowers Jaden Laing, Andres Rossini and Nick Doberer also never stopped trying, and winger Alvaro Alarcon played well above his weight.
“We tested ourselves, but it showed tonight we are not near that standard yet. That’s the reality,” Latin Heat coach Aaron Raper said.
“Credit to the Grizzlies on being the better team tonight, but there were some positive signs to build on if our players become better physically prepared and play more regularly.
“I understand Latin Heat has come a long way since it started in 2013, but we still haven’t identified a full 17 players who are playing to an Australian country level or equivalent on a weekly basis.
“There are exciting things happening domestically in Latin America and, as that gains momentum, there will undoubtedly be some great athletes unearthed.
“The other part of that equation will be having the funds to ensure those athletes are exposed to international opportunities and opposition.”
Chile has just finished hosting its first ever rugby league tournament, won by Mariman Negrete in an event that involved seven teams.
Argentina will host the Chilenos on November 12-13 in the Atlantic coastal city of Miramar in the first meeting between the two neighbouring nations in the sport.
Mexico continues to have sporadic rugby league competitions spread throughout the year, while a groundswell of interest has also been created in Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador and Ecuador.
“We could dwell on the result of the game, but our players are just as much advocates of the sport as they are competitors,” Latin Heat president Daniel Godinez said.
“Tonight they put the focus on the sport of rugby league for Latinos around the world and we’ve had messages of support come from a dozen countries or more.
“Yes, the score ended up against us, but it doesn’t tell a larger story about the unique circumstances that have brought each of our players together.
“In terms of growing rugby league internationally, we still achieved an objective.
“USA and Canada have about 30 years headstart on us with regular rugby league and if you look at say the example of Sri Lanka in cricket, it’s amazing how things can change in a similar period.”
Star Heat player Kevin McKenzie missed the contest through a broken hand suffered while playing with his club side Kawana Dolphins.
The Latin Heat will follow up with a second international for the weekend, when they pit their Development Squad against Africa United at Moorebank Sports Club today (Saturday, October 1) at 3pm.
The contest will feature graduates of the Latin Heat Youth Squad and newcomers to the sport.
Both teams will feature a significant proportion of players from refugee backgrounds in a tribute to the expanded multiculturalism and unifying powers of rugby league.
Curtain-raisers featuring Tonga and Italy Under 16s and Under 18s will begin from 12 noon.
Further down the pipeline, the Latin Heat will host the Latino Nines tournament – contested by the individual nations of Latin America – on October 22, also at Moorebank Sports Club.
CANAM GRIZZLIES 60 (Rodrigus Caesar 3, Sterling Wynn 3, Sam Carson 2, Danny Howard, Steve Bouchard, Kevin Reed tries; Jay Florimo 4, David Marando 2, Roderigus Caesar, Danny Howard goals) defeated GYG LATIN HEAT 4 (Alvaro Alarcon try) at St Marys Stadium, New South Wales, Australia.
CANAM GRIZZLIES: Ryan Burroughs, Rodrigus Caesar, Sterling Wynn, Terrance Williams, Kevin Reed, Jay Florimo, Danny Howard ©, Caleb Thomson, David Marando, Curtis Goddard, Steve Howard, Sam Carson, Douglas Faaiu Atiifale. Interchange: Chris Waters, Ricky Jones, Steve Bouchard, Brett King, Tim Howard. Coach: Aaron Zimmerle.
GYG LATIN HEAT: James Horvat ©, Sebastian Delapaz, Miguel Alarcon, Matty Booth, Alvaro Alarcon, Brad Millar, Trent Millar, Eduardo Wegener, Daniel Navarro, Juan Carlos Carrion, Nick Doberer, Jaden Laing, Andres Rossini. Interchange: Nicholas Cama, Jonathan Espinoza, Jesse Graham, Steve Clark, Jon Munoz, Daniel Aguirre Acevedo, Joshua Munoz. Coach: Aaron Raper.
The efforts of the 100% volunteer-run Latin Heat Rugby League are supported by Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerias, S.H.I.E.L.D Security, Tattoo Tears, OneBigSwitch.com.au, Jani-King Cleaning, SeriousAboutRL.com, Rugby League Team Manager 2015 computer game, Retrocom Digital TV Specialists, Colombianos en Brisbane, Link Australia Student Services, Raw Juicery, SEMCAR Mechanics, Lichtnauer and Associates Accountants, Cast Graphics, Cabramatta Ink, Majestic Property Maintenance, musician Royal El Latino and Darkside Studio Photography.