By Robert Burgin, Date: 21/1/13
A LARGE and supportive crowd, some fantastic individual debuts and an untarnished resolve were all it took for the GYG Latin Heat to wipe away a heavy defeat in their first international appearance.
While Asia Cup champions the Philippine Airlines Tamaraws proved far too good in a clinical 114-0 scoreline at Runaway Bay, there was still a sense of accomplishment from the first rugby league side to represent all of Latin America.
Of the warriors which took the field in the Heat jersey, only four players were registered rugby league players in 2013.
The remainder of the squad was formed from a courageous band of men who only discovered (or rediscovered in some cases) a passion for rugby league in recent months and wanted to be a part of something special.
The final side to take the field included players from eight different nations that have never been represented in rugby league before, servicing a population of 600 million people in Latin America.
After a warm-up featuring a 15-minute Latin drum performance and some hair-raisingly passionate speeches from players inside the dressing sheds, the teams took the field.
Signs were good early when the Heat were able to graft their way upfield through a solid forward assault, giving hope for the night ahead.
Yet an elementary error – being caught on the last tackle with the ball – allowed the Philippines possession and opened the door for Denis Gordon to post points in just the second minute.
The Tamaraws again used their greater rugby league nous for the next try, completing a one-on-one strip before scurrying away to establish an early 12-0 lead.
To their credit the Latin Heat players never stopped competing, but barely saw the ball for the remainder of a tough opening quarter, falling behind 34-0 before the first drinks break.
The second quarter was a more even-handed affair, with desperation in defence keeping the Filipinos scoreless for 11 minutes.
Playing in his last game, Heat replacement and assistant coach Ernie Tobar almost raised the roof when he scooted from dummy-half to within inches of the line at the 30-minute mark.
But that was to be as close as the Latinos came until Jaden Laing was held up on a rampaging run in the 56th minute.
In his first game against adults, the young prop of Chilean heritage played a full 80 minutes and was a clear Players’ Player winner, receiving 14 of 16 votes from teammates.
His cover defence, sharp footwork and powerful surges certainly earmark him as a player of the future.
Others playing their first game of rugby league ever, such as Jose Orellana, Diego Santiago Gil Vejerano, Juan David and Sebastian Maya Jimenez, showed plenty of potential with refinement.
Though the big scoreline was deserved by the Tamaraws, the Heat were heartened by the fact that most tries were scored out wide, with the defence in the middle a positive.
The best measure of the evening was the crowd of almost 2000 who showed up on a Saturday night in January, well before the start of the NRL season.
The response on social media and the live webcast was also heartening, while the camaraderie between both sides was a credit to all who participated.
Immediately in the hour following the game, the GYG Latin Heat received offers from two more developing rugby league nations for fixtures, while a handful of new players also identified themselves.
Thanks to Runaway Bay for putting on such a great night, and of course to sponsors Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerias, Crop del Monte Coffee Specialists, Rumba Latina Entertainment, Link Australia, Samba Times and Gringo TV & Magazine.
PHILIPPINES 114 d LATIN HEAT 0 at Bycroft Oval, Runaway Bay, Australia, Saturday January 18 2014. Referee: Michael Gordon. Touch Judges: Jarrod Cole, Juan Perez.