Philippines Rugby League
Philippines Rugby League

By Erick Elefante, Date: 7/2/13

“We couldn’t even beat the Philippines!”

Was a cry from one of the Cook Island supporter’s as she watched in shock as their team went down 12 – 10 to the Philippine Airlines (PAL) Tamaraws at the Cabramatta International 9s on the 2nd of February in Sydney, Australia.

The Pacific Ocean nation is a recognized Rugby league playing country and playing in this year’s Rugby League World Cup, in Great Britain.

So it was a shock to their supporters and players alike. That a country that regularly produces elite Rugby League players for the National Rugby League (NRL) competition in Australia lost to players whose heritage is that of an Asian country not renowned for playing any form of physically engaging sport, let alone Rugby League.

The victory was made much sweeter with the Filipino players winning in front of Philippines Government officials, Consul General Anne Jalando-on Louis and Consul Marford Angeles. After the win one of the Philippines National Rugby League (PNRL) board members was heard commenting to the Consul General – “Your Team has delivered you a victory Ma’am”, which was greeted by a proud smile from the Philippines government official.

The PAL Tamaraws had announced their intentions to be taken seriously at this tournament and not be taken lightly as men of Asian heritage.

Last year, in their inaugural appearance at this tournament, the Philippines faced another Pacific Ocean nation in Niue and played them to a 16 all draw. What a difference a year makes, for in their final pool game the PAL Tamaraws soundly defeated this Rugby League playing nation 30-4.

The defeat of these teams, comprising of players from recognized Rugby League playing countries meant that the Philippines came first in their pool. This is the first time an Asian heritage team has topped their pool in this tournament and the first time one has reached the First tier finals draw of the Cabramatta 9s.
In the quarter finals the Philippines faced the only country in the world where Rugby league is the national sport and very much the nation’s religion – Papua New Guinea (PNG)!

PNG is ranked 6th in the Rugby League world and was at this tournament preparing for the Rugby League World Cup. So all their local full time professional players were here in Australia and faced the PAL Tamaraws.

The PAL Tamaraws shocked their much bigger and professional PNG players in the first half of the match holding them to a two try to one lead. The Filipino players gave as well as they got from PNG.

Unfortunately the PAL Tamaraw fairy tale ended in the final period of the second half, with the relentless pounding from the bigger and professional PNG players finally taking its toll on the Philippines team. With a couple of late tries flattering PNG, with the final score of 30-4 not a true indication of the intensity of the fight the Filipinos put up during the game.

The PAL Tamaraws finished the quarter finals with their heads held high knowing that it took a World Cup, professional, national team, from the only country in the world where Rugby League is a national religion to halt their progress.

PNRL Head Coach Clayton Watene was proud of the attitude, commitment, passion and courage shown by all his players; with his Captain Luke Srama and forward Rez Phillips stepping up beyond the call of duty with their dedicated, uncompromising and tough play, both led from the front in all their games.

This year’s Cabramatta 9s were one of many first for the Philippines, from the first Asian heritage team to make the first tier finals series of the tournament, to the first International side to bring 3 teams to the tournament.

The Philippines National Development team and the Philippines National Development/U20 team, made their debut this year which has allowed the PAL Tamaraw coaching staff to assess the depth of talent amongst the Filipino-Australian and New Zealand Rugby League community.

The Philippines Development team had the unenviable task of being drawn against two teams playing in the Semi-professional ‘Ron Massey’ Competition, in Hills District and North Ryde United. The Development team had their chances against their first opponent Hills District with handling errors and wrong options costing them the match 10-0.

The Philippines National Development team faced Portugal in their quarter final appearance a national team they beat 20-0 in 2012. But this Portuguese team bared no resemblance to that side.

Philippines v Portugal 2013 International 9's

Coming into the Cabramatta 9s with only 9 players, in order to keep them in the tournament, the organizers allowed them to recruit 5 players from PNG and the Philippines provided them with one of our own in Robert Geraghty, so they could play. So again a Philippines team faced up to playing against full time professional PNG Rugby League players and one of their own, with the crowd renaming the Portugal side “Potu-genians!”

So the Philippines National Development team faced up to the PNG Internationals and played with the same tenacity as their PAL Tamaraw Rugby League brothers and only missed winning by a whisker, losing by 2 points, 12-10, to qualify for the later stages of the finals, with missed conversions the only difference.

The final Filipino-heritage team in the tournament the Philippines National Development/U20 team faced up against Italy and Greece in their pool games. The team’s first game was against the fringe players of the Italian national side that are also playing in this year’s Rugby League World cup. In their final pool game they showed a lot of spirit, scoring first against the Greek team.

In their quarter final game they were unfortunate to face up to a bigger and more experienced Fiji team who are also in this year’s Rugby League World Cup.

With the Fiji side only was playing, at this level because they lost all their pool games against eventual Cabramatta 9s winners Papua New Guinea and the Australian Indigenous side, who have won the Cabramatta 9s tournament over the last couple of years.

The PNRL has viewed this year’s Cabramatta International 9s campaign a success. They reached the First tier final of the tournament in only their second appearance, they have unearthed new Filipino-heritage Rugby league talent which bodes well for the National team.

With Sean Lynch in the PAL Tamaraws, from Townsville being a new revelation with his speedy try against the Cook Islands and two against Niue.

Not surprising due to his successful Asian cup tournament of 2012, PNRL Assistant Coach Mark De Ubago rated Ashley Black in the Philippines National Development team as their best, because he was always creating chances and making great meters with every run. Coach Rick Hartley also mentioned James Willoughby as showing future potential having had a great tournament.

Philippines National Development/U20 coach Tom Simpson rated brothers Captain Arwin Marcus and his Vice Captain brother James who brought their families down from Queensland and were excellent role models for this young side providing them with the leadership on the field offering the spark in attack and the starch in defense to teach their young charges what the “Greatest game of All” is all about!

Other players in the Philippines National Development/U20 team noted by PNRL Manager Brett Prado were Jason Bedford who led from the front with a lot of good talk and a lot of activity, always getting involved and trying his best. Kim Hilis, did good too, punched well above his weight.

All the Philippines Rugby League players at this tournament faced countries and players, playing in this year’s Rugby League World Cup and they have not been overwhelmed by the experience and have all walked away from their games proud to be a Philippines National Rugby League player!

The PNRL would like to thank the Philippines government, the Filipino community leaders from the Philippines Community Council – NSW and our sponsor Philippine Airlines and Zignal Travel for supporting us at this tournament and all the family and friends who came along on the day. It is support from the Philippines government, sponsors and the community that will eventually allow us to establish Rugby League in the Philippines.

The PAL Tamaraws need the support of Filipino business and the community as they strive to establish the “Greatest game of All” in the Philippines, so all are welcome to make contact with the PNRL. Any enquiries about the PAL Tamaraws can be directed to the contact address located on its website www.pnrlf.com

PAL Tamaraw score card:

MATCH 1 vs COOK ISLANDS:

Won 12-10

Tries: Kyle Whey, Sean Lynch and Mike Markew

MATCH 2 vs NIUE:

Won 30-10

Tries: Sean Lynch 2, Justin Wrigley 2, Richard Goodwin, Mike Markew
Goals: Ron Pena 2, Richard Goodwin

QUARTER FINAL vs PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Lost 30-4

Tries: Steve Bernstrom

Fite