Courtesy of Tony Webeck and www.nrl.com
It’s the sobering backdrop to two vastly different cultures both endeavouring to make the game of rugby league relevant in their home nations.
As the Philippine Tamaraws prepare to face the Latin Heat at Runaway Bay Seagulls Sports Complex on the Gold Coast on Saturday night in a rugby league international with a difference, a number of the squad will take the field still uncertain of the welfare of family members caught up in the horrors of Typhoon Haiyan last November.
More than 6,000 people have been confirmed dead in the Philippines with thousands more still missing and half of all the proceeds from Saturday night’s game will assist in disaster relief efforts.
Luke Srama will captain the Tamaraws against the Heat and says that while his family was not affected, there are a number of Philippine players still holding out for positive news.
“My family are mainly based in Manila so they weren’t affected but a few of our boys in our Philippines squad, some of them haven’t even heard from [family members] just yet,” Srama explained. “A couple of the boys have been over there trying to find family and it’s been pretty devastating.
“People in Australia don’t realise how it is over there compared to here. Some of the people’s houses and just their way of life… They just have a little bit of rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they’re living in tiny little huts and getting smashed by that huge typhoon just wrecked the whole city.”
But for one night at least the Philippine community in south-east Queensland will be able to rally around their team which is hoping to parlay their consecutive Asian Cup wins over Thailand into a crack at the 2017 World Cup.
A World Cup dream is a distant one for members of the Latin Heat, a team comprising players of Latin American heritage formed less than 12 months ago, but the match against the Philippines is a significant next step.
Their only competitive games as a team thus far were at the Mitchelton Nines in Brisbane last year and as Robert Burgin, the brainchild of the side, explains, if they’re successful in spreading the word then they will quickly cease to exist.
“Our total goal is to make ourselves obsolete in a sense because we want to become Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and break apart, but we need depth for that to happen,” Burgin said.
“When I first started I thought we might be able to get a four-team comp going between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile because geographically it’s fairly easy to travel between those countries and that’s where there’s a big rugby union flavour. But, and it’s been a huge surprise, since we started this team the bulk of our side comes from Colombia, El Salvador and Chile.
“Colombia dominates the side, it’s huge, and there’s a really good opportunity there because it’s not far from Jamaica who already play rugby league.”
All but four members of the Australian-based squad were born on Latin American soil and Burgin points to developments in South America as to why rugby league could be on the verge of tapping into a new audience of some 600 million people.
“There’s a team just starting up in Sao Paulo in Brazil, which is huge. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world and they’ve not had a team in any of those major capitals,” he says.
“There’s s small comp in Espirito Santo which is also in Brazil but this Sao Paulo development looks like it’s the real deal. They’re getting uniforms and talking to the international federation so that’s a really exciting development for the game.
“Nothing has happened [in Argentina] since they played a Police team there in 2005 and when you see a country like Argentina with some 90,000 registered rugby union players and they’re not playing rugby league, your mind starts to think that might be a wasted opportunity.
“Last Christmas I went back to Brazil with my partner and we were in a tiny little village in Brazil and I started showing them YouTube clips because we were just sitting around a computer and everyone loved it. That’s the moment I thought that this could really work.”
The game between the Philippines and Latin Heat kicks off at 7pm on Saturday night and entry is by gold coin donation only with 100 per cent of proceeds split between the Typhoon Haiyan appeal and Amnesty International’s ongoing work in Latin America.
PHILIPPINES: 1 Will Dreves, 2 Jeremiah Alimpulos, 3 Dennis Gordon, 4 Carlo Alinboyong, 5 James Webb, 6 Paul Sheedy, 7 Ashley Black, 8 Glen Power, 9 Luke Srama (c), 10 Arwin Marcus, 11 Jason Dreves, 12 Steven Tolo, 13 Robert Geraghty. Interchange: 14 Scott Sandaga, 15 Micah Hines, 16 James Marcus, 17 Blaze Gonzales, 18 Fred Arquiza. Coach: Clayton Watene.
LATIN HEAT: 1 Carlos Astorga Gonzalez, 2 Fernando Villegas, 3 Luis Guillermo Fhon, 4 Mayer Flamenco, 5 Diego Santiago Gil Vejerano, 6 Daniel Sarmiento, 7 Marco Tulio Pereira, 8 Sebastian Maya Jimenez, 9 Jye Sommers, 10 Jaden Laing, 11 Jonathan Espinoza (c), 12 Juan David Espinal, 13 Josh Gadea Hellyer. Interchange: 14 Diego Lopez Pinto, 15 Walter Orellana, 16 Jose Orellana, 17 Alex Moreno, 18 Kristofer Vieira. Coach: Robert Burgin.