This week, we take a look at one of the smallest nations in Latin America, but one, which has made big strides in International Rugby League…El Salvador!
The vision of an El Salvador International Rugby League team came to be due to an Australian from Stanthorpe named Chris Reid. Chris’s wife (who is Salvadoran) has a brother who played Rugby League from a young age for various clubs including the Stanthorpe Gremlins, Nerang Roosters and Wests Mitchelton Panthers. Seeing a Salvadoran playing Rugby League gave Chris an idea to help El Salvador make its International Rugby League debut.
He created a Facebook page (El Salvador Rugby League) to see if he could help encourage Australians of Salvadoran heritage to form a Rugby League side. After this, Chris heard of a gentleman called Robert Burgin and the Latin Heat Rugby League team (who were trying to get Latin Americans to play Rugby League). Both joined forces and in January 2014, the Latin Heat made their debut against the Philippines on the Gold Coast. Four Salvadorans made their International debut in this game.
It wasn’t until a year later that in February 2015, El Salvador (nicknamed Trueno Azul – ‘The Blue Thunder’) made its International debut at the Cabramatta International 9s. Since then, the Trueno Azul have participated in both the 2015 and 2016 Latino 9s and the Cabramatta 9s in 2015 and 2016.
In June 2016, El Salvador made history by participating in the First Latin American 13-a-side International game against Chile at Henson Park in Sydney. Chile ended up winning the match 58-20, however there were many positives to take from the match. The match was seen as a major step in International Rugby League as a big crowd of over 2000 watched the match and even the Ambassador of El Salvador drove up from Canberra to witness the match.
As the team became more prominent, more Salvadorans with Rugby League experience began to come on board and contribute to the team. Some included;
Daniel Godinez: Former St George Illawarra Dragon junior, current Latin Heat President and regularly does behind the scenes work for the team.
Fredy Artega- Regular Rugby League player and experienced Coach and Trainer for both El Salvador and Latin Heat. He is also the OzTag coordinator for Latin Heat.
Alvaro Alarcon- Captain of El Salvador and Trainer for Latin Heat
Since making their debut in 2015, more and more players have been uncovered for the national team. The main reason for this is because a lot of families from El Salvador came to Australia as refugees in the 1980s and 90s due to the El Salvador Civil War, which occurred in the country for almost 20 years. Despite the horrific circumstances that forced the families of the Salvadorian players to leave El Salvador, it is the main reason why the Trueno Azul has been able to find many players and field a national team. There have also been numerous Salvadoran players in the United States who have represented the USA Latin Heat team at the Philadelphia 9s.
It is hoped that a domestic competition will be up and running in time for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup qualifiers. This is important because domestic activity is a prerequisite for RLIF nations to compete in qualifiers.
The next main game for El Salvador is their match against Uruguay at Liverpool All Saints on September 30th. This will be the first time the two nations have met in a full International Match.
Details for the match can be found by clicking here
El Salvador Rugby League Facebook Page;