The newest South American rugby league team, Latin Heat, had their first game on Australian soil in the Wests Mitchelton Nines Tournament last Saturday.
Robert Burgin, a freelance journalist and South American enthusiast, began his hunt three months ago for players with a keen interest in exposing their cultural identity.
He gathered 14 talented, young players from varying locations, forming the new South American rugby team.
“Some players I have literally found on the street, while others were identified through research with the Rugby League International Federation and National Rugby League (RLIF an NRL),” Mr Burgin said.
“We welcome players of all abilities and our focus is on encouragement and development, not solely winning.”
Mr Burgin said he was looking for ways to get by without budget restrictions or asking for financial support.
“We are starting from nothing and are not-for-profit, so everything we do is for the love of it. We’ve had to find players, uniforms, fields, equipment, insurance, first aid supplies etc. from nothing, so it has been a long, but rewarding process,” he said.
“Sponsors have been integral in making sure we survive and we have a well-respected brand that has chosen to be our biggest supporter.
“We try to make participation free to everyone, aside from the cost of football boots and a mouth-guard. We pay for uniforms (jerseys, socks, shorts), for insurance cover, for referee fees, strapping etc. and all coaching and training is provided free.
“We exist to encourage as many people as possible to play the game.”
One of the more experienced players, Daniel Sarmiento, has been involved in the world of Rugby League for over 13 years and is now wanting to show his skills by representing the Latino Community.
“I have been playing Rugby union for the last three years and also I work in the National Rugby League as a development officer teaching kids how to play and that experience will help the team,” he said.
“I love the notion of a South American team [and] even if we are just going to play in Australia, I feel proud to represent my country in the new team.
“Confidence is kind of the key in the game because if players are not confident they are scared and if they are scared, they do not play.
“If players are confident with the technic, they lose the fear, if they lose the fear, they star having fun, enjoy the game and play better.
“Players always should know first passing skills, just to know how to pass the ball and move it around; second the tackle, for safety issues; and third probably be game knowledge, know the basic rules of the game.
“For the new ones, it will not be difficult to teach, it will depends of the coach and the interest of the player to learn.
“Once you get the concept of one game, you can play better the second and definitely you can play Rugby League.”
One of the newest players, Fernando Villegas, has been assisting in training sessions on the weekend in order to develop his skills which have been put to good use on the fields.
“I have been living more than six years in Australia and I never had the opportunity to play Rugby League,” he said.
“Now, I have the chance to play and even more, playing while I am representing my country.
“It will be a long learning process that I have started a month ago. I am happy to do it and proud to participate.”
Although Latin Heat lost their first match, other teams and their coaches were amazed by the team’s performance.
Latin Heat will play against Thailand in an international tournament early next year in Sydney, along with the Cabramatta Nines in February.
Depending on the result of the game, Latin Heat may look at taking their skills further by playing in the Solomon Islands, Portugal and Niue, big rugby league-based nations.
There are seven companies so far who have decided to support the team including Crop the Mountain, Gringo Magazine, Plus Fitness, Times Samba, Rumba Latina, Latin Rumba and Guzman y Gomez.
Latin Heat players include Daniel Sarmiento (Colombia), Kevin McKenzie (Guyana), Ben Vengoa (Chile), Brenden Vengoa (Chile), Leighton Johannesen (Colombia), Diego López (Colombia), Juan Sosa (Argentina), Franklin Lopez (Nicaragua), Josh Gadea-Hellyer (Uruguay), Peter Hunt(Uruguay), Fernando Villegas (Colombia), Alex Moreno (Colombia), Jonathan Espinosa (Nicaragua) and Alejando Zota Balvin (Colombia).