ONE PLAYER won a title alongside Josh Papalii, another played in the same team as Israel Folau, another was scouted by Manly, and another has a tournament named after him on the other side of the globe.
They’re not household names, but the Queensland Sapos are helping to change the face of global rugby league ahead of the GYG Latino Origin match at Davies Park, West End on May 27.
The players competing for the Sapos (translation Toads) against the New South Wales Cucarachas consider themselves both proud representatives of Latin America and of Queensland.
While they might live in the shadows of former teammates who went on to become State of Origin stars, they are carving out a new path for rugby league in South and Central American communities – both here and abroad.
“Until less than five years ago, Latin Americans as a broad population were largely untouched by the sport,” Latin American Rugby League co-founder Robert Burgin said.
“And although some people might consider it grandiose to say these guys are creating history, they already have to an extent.
“Through promoting the sport to friends back home, sending balls and boots overseas, and being ambassadors and advocates, they have helped start multiple competitions thousands of kilometres away.
“Last weekend we had Latinos training here in Brisbane, in Sydney, and others playing in Chile, Mexico and the USA. That’s a pretty amazing reach.”
Roughly half the Sapos team were born in Latin America, with the others being first-generation Australians, many coming from refugee backgrounds.
Among them is Oscar Mendoza, who played in the same champion Woodridge High School team that featured Maroons enforcer Josh Papalii.
Mendoza is named after Oscar Romero, a popular archbishop who was assassinated at the height of El Salvador’s unrest in the 1980s, sparking 250,000 people to attend the subsequent funeral in protest.
Several members of Mendoza’s wider family were also caught up in the civil war that lasted more than 12 years.
“Across our team – and the NSW Latino team – there are some extraordinary tales of hardship endured,” Burgin said.
“We operate Latin American Rugby League as much to promote a mutual appreciation of Latino and Australian culture and history as we do to promote the sport of rugby league.
“To us, the team is a way to offer newcomers an Aussie sporting experience in an environment that is welcoming, that helps them learn English, network to find jobs, and meet new mates.
“It’s given me a huge insight into how hard some of these guys have worked to make a better life for their families and themselves, and I hope it’s helped give a bit of identity and respect to the local Latino community.”
Coaching the Queensland Latino team will be Rodrigo Millar Pavez, who moved to Australia as a nine-year-old and learnt to play rugby league at close to a dozen clubs spanning Sydney, North Queensland, north Brisbane and Logan City.
He was the first coach to return to Chile and help referee and develop players, assisting in sparking a domestic competition which now has 13 clubs and plays a tournament named in his honour.
Sons Brad and Trent both went to Marsden State High, with Brad starting just as Cameron Smith was finishing his education and Trent playing in the same team as Israel Folau, Antonio Winterstein, Chris Sandow, Esi Tonga and Joseph Tomane.
Some other interesting ties to the NRL include Colombian-born hooker Sebastian Martinez, a junior rep player who featured alongside Patrick Kaufusi for Wide Bay and was scouted by Manly.
Utility Jaxson Uzabeaga was coached in juniors by ex-Maroons forward Gavin Allen, while teammate Francisco Munoz was coached by ex-Blues speedster Matt Geyer at high school.
The GYG Latino Origin event will be held four days before State of Origin I is held at Suncorp Stadium to capitalise on the fervour of interstate rivalry – but it will also come with a purpose.
All funds raised from the day, which will also feature Latino music and food, will go towards funding teams and competitions in multiple Latin American countries.
An opportunity will also exist for fans to donate jerseys, boots, balls and rugby league DVDs to be sent abroad.
The main game between Queensland and NSW at 5.15pm will be full-contact, while two tag games will be held from 4pm to give both male and female novices a chance to try the non-contact version of the game.
Home to Queensland Intrust Super Cup team the Souths Logan Magpies, Davies Park is seen as the perfect venue to capture the attention of the community.
West End has long been an eclectic hub, central to Queensland’s migrant communities, with almost 20 per cent of residents speaking a language other than English at home.
Neighbouring South Brisbane, which encompasses the vibrant Southbank precinct, has in excess of 30 per cent of the population speaking a language other than English at home.
The venue is also 5km from Spring Hill, the only suburb in Queensland where Spanish is the second-most spoken language.
QLD LATINO SQUAD
PLAYER HERITAGE RESIDENCE INTERESTING FACT
Chris Castro Both parents born El Salvador Inala Played juniors for Souths Magpies, Forest Lake and Springfield
Grantito Chacone Father Mexican, Grandfather Argentinian Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Grew up in Goodna) Once set a cow’s heart on fire before a game to inspire team
Cesar Contreras Born in Venezuela Carina Brother played for Venezuelan national rugby union team
Nick Doberer Mother born in Chile Sydney (born in Nambour) Has his mother’s maiden name ‘Figueroa’ tattooed down leg
Isaac Duggan Father born in Chile Ashmore Played junior rugby league for Burleigh Bears and Southport Tigers
Jonathan Espinoza Father born Nicaragua, Mother born Chile Greenslopes Was previously dressing room security officer for State of Origin
Claude Jackson Born in Guyana Byron Bay (first settled in Tugun) Will celebrate five years living in Australia in September
Sebastian Martinez Born in Colombia Yeronga Played in junior rep team with Patrick Kaufusi. Scouted by Manly.
Kevin McKenzie Born in Guyana Aroona Played IRB International Sevens v New Zealand & South Africa
Daniel Mejia Born in Colombia Chermside Has a university degree in engineering. Studying English.
Oscar Mendoza Both parents born in El Salvador Tanah Merah Played in Woodridge High team alongside Josh Papalii
Rafael Mendoza Both parents born in El Salvador Kingston Lost over 10kg training for the match
Brad Millar Father born in Chile Logan Reserve Started high school at Marsden when Cam Smith in Grade 12
Trent Millar Father born in Chile Logan Reserve Played in same school team as Israel Folau, Chris Sandow, Esi Tonga
Angel Morrison Mother born Uruguay, Father born Peru Shailer Park Plays for the Griffith University Dragons alongside J Espinoza
Francisco Munoz Both parents born in Chile Robina Was coached at high school by NSW player Matt Geyer
Carlos Reyes-Kiwikiwi Father born in El Salvador Crestmead Devouted church goer studying to become a youth leader
Daniel Rickard Born in Colombia Narangba Adopted at birth, reconnected with mother through teammates
Brandon Rodriguez Both parents born in El Salvador Collingwood Park Went to same high school as Anthony Milford, Tautau Moga
Sebastian Schubert Arriaza Born in El Salvador Reedy Creek Still completing high school at Marymount College
Jaxson Uzabeaga Father born Chile, Grandmother born Argentina Alderley Plays for Wests Mitchelton. Was coached by QLD forward Gavin Allen
Diego Gil Vejerano Born in Bogota West End Works three jobs to pay for the future of his daughter in Colombia
Pablo Zahoran Born in Chile Milton Carpenter previously played in Cape York competition
Coach: Rodrigo Millar Pavez Born in Chile Logan Reserve Has travelled to Chile twice to coach domestic players. Has tournament named in his honour.
NSW LATINO – ‘Las Cucarachas’
Alvaro Alarcon – Both parents born in El Salvador
John Eugene Araya – Father born in Chile
Frank Altamirano – Both parents born in Peru
Fredy Arteaga Figueroa – Born in El Salvador
Chris Brantes Ibanez – Both parents born in Chile
Javier Britos – Father born in Uruguay
Niko Cama – Mother born in Uruguay
Mana Castillo-Sioni – Mother born in Chile
Steven Clarke – Mother born in Uruguay
Sean Day – Mother born in Peru
Luis Guillermo Fhon – Born in Peru
Jono Godinez – Both parents born in El Salvador
Paco Godinez – Born in El Salvador
William Gomez – Both parents born in Ecuador
James Horvat – Mother born in Chile
Sebastian Jacome – Both parents born in Ecuador
Matty Booth – Mother born in Uruguay
Edgar Santamaria – Born in Ecuador
John Vasco – Both parents born in Ecuador
Eduardo Wegener – Father born in Chile
Coach: Andrew Charles.