LATIN America has won its first 13-a-side game in international rugby league, punishing Portugal 40-6 in the Copa Cabral at Rose Bay, Sydney.
In by far the Guzman y Gomez Latin Heat’s best display to date, the representative newcomers showed their rapid improvement since a 0-114 demolition at the hands of the Philippines in January.
While teenage hooker Daniel Navarro (Argentina) led the scoring with three tries, it was a well-balanced team effort that saw the GYG Heat charge on from an early 12-6 advantage.
With a combined weight of 255kg, props Eddie Wegener (Chile) and Sean Day (Peru) paved the way forwards, while youngsters Navarro, Brandon Tobar (Chile), Eddie Ventura (El Salvador), Jaden Laing (Chile) and Sebastian Delapaz (Chile) all gave strong performances.
Halfback Ventura was a revelation on debut in the number seven jersey and crossed untouched from a deceptive jink in the sixth minute to get scoring underway.
Seven minutes later Navarro jumped from dummy-half to grab the first of his treble and the Latinos had a promising 12-0 advantage.
Yet just as they looked set for the breathrough win, forward Day was sin-binned for repeated infringements in the ruck and Portugal almost instantaneously crossed out wide.
While the last pass was deemed to have gone forward, the Roosters kept pecking away until substitute Peti Tamati made space to cross in the 29th minute.
Rather than be taken aback, the Heat responded in kind, with strong Guyanan fullback Kev McKenzie taking multiple defenders over the tryline from close range.
Up 18-6, Latin America benefitted from a wonderful try by Navarro in the shades of halftime, the nippy talent picking up a loose ball 70m out, swerving and out-pacing three defenders in a thrilling pursuit.
With Ventura converting all tries – a weak point for the Heat in previous games – it was 24-6 when referee Mike Smaill blew an end to the first half.
Both teams lost their rhythm at the start of the second stanza, with the frustration building to a crescendo.
Portugal inexplicably ran the ball into touch on the second tackle well inside their own half, while Latin America committed an equally baffling obstruction that surrendered possession.
A lifting tackle on Heat backrower Joshua Munoz in the 59th minute was the instigation of a brief fight, with officials taking control by sending four players to the sin bin, two from each side.
When the teams returned to playing football it was all one way to the Heat.
McKenzie and centre Delapaz interlinked for a slick leftside movement that almost saw Uruguayan debutant Adam Kungl cross out wide.
Then a rampaging Wegener put McKenzie into a yawning gap 10m out only for the flyer to drop the ball cold, proving he is indeed human.
Those close shaves were eventually converted to points when Navarro completed his hat-trick in the 68th minute, again evading the markers.
Typically close to the action, impact man Laing extended the margin to 32-6 when he latched onto a McKenzie offload at pace and barged over.
A subsequent conversion by Ventura and then another try courtesy of a 50m intercept by all-rounder Tobar took the game to its final standing.
Prior to the Portugal clash, the Heat had tasted victory only once in a Nines match against Japan in February.
Planning is underway for Latin America to meet the Philippines for a rematch of the Magellan Trophy prior to the NRL season, with a tentative date of Saturday, January 17 in Brisbane.
The stunning progression of Latin American Rugby League could not have been possible without the support of Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerias, SHIELD Security, Rumba Latina Entertainment, Link Australia International Student Services, Chimi.com.au Gourmet Sauces, Gringo Media and Fighting for Fitness Gym.
Latin American Heat 40 (Daniel Navarro 3, Eddie Ventura, Kevin McKenzie, Jaden Laing, Brandon Tobar tries; Eddie Ventura 5 goals, Brandon Tobar goal) d Portugal Roosters 6 (Peti Tamati try; David Kumar goal) at Woollahra Oval, Rose Bay, Sydney. Referee: Mike Smaill. Touch Judges: Sean McHatton, Jimmy Oliveria
LATIN AMERICA: Kevin McKenzie (Guyana), Adam Kungl (Uruguay), Brandon Tobar (Chile), Sebastian Delapaz (Chile), Luis Guillermo Fohn (Peru), Daniel Sarmiento (Colombia), Eddie Ventura (El Salvador), Eddie Wegener (Chile), Daniel Navarro (Argentina), Sean Day (Peru), Jye Sommers (Peru), Joshua Munoz (Chile), Aaron Perez (Peru). Interchange: Jonathan Espinoza (Nicaragua/Chile), Juan David Espinal (Colombia), Nicholas Cama (Uruguay), Jaden Laing (Chile). Coach: Gabriel Keegan (Argentina).
PORTUGAL: Dale Jackson, Terry Macroyannis, Latham Manuela, Rodney Manuela, Avari Waremaki, David Kumar, Jacob Dematos, Joel Fernandes, Hugo Martins, Ben de Brito, Daniel Viegas, Ryan Chalker, Danilson Avelar. Interchange: John Freitas, Tarik Yalcinkaya, Peti Tamati, Tane Sturmey. Coaches: Daniel Viegas and Hugo Martins.