“I’VE never really been diagnosed with anything. I’m just a shy person…and sensitive too”
If you’ve never heard a rugby league player utter those words, that’s because you haven’t met Eugene Araya.
The unmistakeable Chilean forward lays bare his heart like few others in the 13-man sport.
And he’s sure to do the same as he eyes a spot in the New South Wales Latino team set to play Queensland Latino at Davies Park, in Brisbane’s West End, on May 27.
When you first meet Eugene, he is the type of guy you’re unsure how to take.
He’ll greet you with the biggest grin and most enthusiastic handshake you’ve ever experienced.
Conversely, if luck is not on his side that day, he won’t be afraid to shed a tear in front of you or curse out aloud.
He can be equal parts idiosyncrasy and emotion.
But once you get to know Eugene, it’s difficult not to sympathise with his backstory or feel a sense of admiration – even protectiveness – as he tries to excel in a game that can be so unforgiving.
“I was bullied a lot at school and even some of the teachers, I felt, were against me,” the 20-year-old Fairfield Heights resident says.
“Bullying really prevented me from interacting with other people when I was younger, and it made me antisocial right from primary school through to high school.
“In my early years of playing rugby league, I’d end up fighting with my own teammates because the bullying didn’t stop.
“However, as I’ve grown older I have become more confident within myself and that allows me to be more friendly towards my peers.”
When Eugene first decided to become involved with Latin American Rugby League, it wasn’t necessarily a happy start there either.
While he was extremely pleased to find others of the same passionate bloodlines playing his favourite sport, he was omitted from Chile’s historic international Test debut against El Salvador in June 2016.
As he received the news that he would be 18th man, he openly wept on the training paddock and wondered if the world was conspiring against him once again.
“That week leading in I had the feeling I was definitely going to be picked,” reveals Eugene.
“But the captain came to talk to me and he said ‘There’s no doubt you have the heart, but… I’m sorry’.
“I still disagree with the decision, but it did make me want to prove more than ever what I could do on the field.”
Born in Sydney to Chilean father Juan Araya and Spanish mother Noemi Garcia, Eugene began playing rugby league at age seven and became an ardent Canterbury Bulldogs supporter.
He has since played for a variety of clubs including St Gertrude’s, CVD Cobras, Canley Heights Dragons, Mounties and Western Sydney University Ducks.
Sticking to his guns after his initial omission from the Chilean squad, Eugene dedicated himself to training, with the aim of finally pulling on the red, blue and white for the GYG Latino Nines last October.
His hard work paid off as he was named by the reigning champions, with his unwavering commitment a key factor in his selection.
While seeing sparse gametime in the early fixtures, he took the field to great applause as a supportive crowd willed him onward.
It was in the semi-finals, with Chile up against surprise packets Colombia, that he provided arguably the most enduring moment of the tournament.
Receiving the ball 15m out from the tryline, he bustled forward and showed surprising strength to shrug off a handful of defenders and plant the ball just to the right of the goalposts.
The grandstand erupted and, aware of his tribulations, his teammates showered him with high fives.
He was later named as one of three recipients of an encouragement award from sponsors GYG, as Chile went on to defend their title.
“When I step on the field I represent my family. I love them with all my heart and am very grateful to have them,” says Eugene.
“Latin Heat has given me that opportunity and helped me to become more socially active.
“I’ve definitely made some improvements since joining the Heat.
“I am pretty proud of myself, but I still believe I can do more.”
Currently studying a Diploma of Social Science, Araya is hopeful of pulling on the colour blue in his near future for more than one occasion, as he eyes a possible career in the police force.
- The Latino Origin event on May 27 at Davis Park West End will feature a full 80-minute contest between the QLD and NSW Latino sides, played under full tackle rules.
Players will be able to nominate to wear culturally themed maroon or blue jerseys based on where they live, or for heritage players, where they were born, while overseas-based Latinos can nominate for the team they support.
Curtain-raiser tag games (non-tackle) will be played between Colombian and Brazilian teams, and between Latina female teams. Gates open from 4pm.
Latin Heat aims to encourage mutual appreciation of Latino and Australian culture at all events, and provide a welcoming networking group for Latinos interested in an active lifestyle.
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, Cast Graphics, SeriousAboutRL.com, Retrocom Digital TV Specialists, Colombianos en Brisbane, EMSA Education and Migration Services, Raw Juicery, SEMCAR Mechanics, Lichtnauer and Associates Accountants, Cabramatta Ink, Majestic Property Maintenance, musician Royal El Latino and Darkside Studio Photography.