Date: 26/9/17, Photo Credit: Alex Faris
WHEN people don’t understand how anyone born in Australia could have mixed allegiances when it comes to sport, the life of Julio Toledo provides a stirring case in point.
Toledo – owner of surely one of the best names in international rugby league – was born in Australia two years after his parents migrated together from Uruguay.
He is set to pull on the blue and white of his family’s heritage on Saturday, September 30 when Uruguay faces El Salvador in The Rise of the Underdogs Rugby League International Federation event at Liverpool in Sydney’s west.
Throughout his youth, Toledo spent almost equal time in both countries, living in Uruguay three times before his mid-teens, remaining there for years at a time.
Most of his wider family still lives in the tiny South American nation to this day.
Now 29, Toledo talks with an Aussie accent, but the content of his message gives no doubt of his affinity for Latino culture.
“I love both countries, but with all my wider family being in Uruguay…it’s a different kind of feeling,” he explains.
“Family means something completely different in most Latin American countries and every Sunday there’s carne asada (shared barbecue) and music and everyone comes together.
“I really love that part of it. It’s a special feeling.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be Australian too. I’ve married an Australian (sister of NRL player Kyle Lovett) and have three kids here and my future is here.
“But I’m really motivated to put Uruguay on the world map when it comes to rugby league.”
Toledo describes being Uruguayan as “being relaxed, but when stuff happens, nobody backs down”, which in many ways could also be used as a description of being Australian as well.
For a country of just three million people, Uruguay consistently punches above its weight in both sport, politics and social reform, causing people to sit up and take notice on a global scale.
Most famously Uruguay has lifted the FIFA World Cup twice and is a regular finalist in the round-ball game.
Few Aussies would also know that in the other rugby code, union, Uruguay has beaten neighbour Brazil (which boasts a population 60 times bigger) in 23 out of 25 occasions.
Toledo himself grew attracted to 13-man rugby league after first playing when he attended primary school at Matraville.
While he pursued soccer for most of his upbringing, he later played two seasons with the Mascot Jets and in recent times has been a regular for the UTS Tigers in the New South Wales Tertiary League.
He’s also been inspired by one of his workmates, fellow garbage collector and rugby league Cindarella story Eloni Vunakece.
A Fijian national representative, Vunakece has become famed for juggling an NRL contract with the Sydney Roosters with duties as a father-of-three, and other work as a trash collector and personal trainer.
“He’s a heaps good bloke,” says Julio, again giving away the extent of his Aussie vocabulary.
“I’ve worked with him for a couple of years now and you see him come into work after being flogged at Roosters training and then he pulls a full shift on the end of that.
“He’s a real laidback guy. You can talk to him about life or footy, and he’s always got good advice.
“Watching how well he’s done, rising up through the ranks, playing first grade on TV…yeah that’s inspiring.”
Toledo in many ways plays a similar role to Vunakece on the field, albeit at an obviously more modest level.
They are both rangy, powerful forwards with a bit of skill, and can hit hard in both attack and defence.
Uruguay is coming off the back of a 50-4 loss in their international rugby league debut versus Hungary in February of this year.
They are set for an intriguing battle with fellow Latin American nation El Salvador on September 30, in a match-up that is incredibly even.
Uruguay is ranked 41 in the world by the Rugby League International Federation, while El Salvador is ranked 38 and also searching for its first win after losses to Chile and Thailand.
Both teams will have a mix of players who have played regular club and school rugby league all their lives, scattered among those who have either returned to the sport or taken it up just so they can pay homage to their roots.
Among Toledo’s teammates is his cousin Michael Leon, who was another who impressed back in February.
“Yeah it’s a bit of a buzz playing with him and we’ve got some history,” says Toledo.
“There’s a funny story…when we were back in Uruguay together one time, we were celebrating New Year’s Eve and everyone was setting off fireworks, as they like to do in Latin America.
“One of them shot straight into his mouth and was still sparkling. It burnt all the side of his mouth, which wasn’t real funny at the time, but we still laugh and talk about it to this day.”
Beyond the fun and games however, Toledo views his role with Uruguay Rugby League with a certain degree of seriousness.
As well as performing on the field for the rugby league newcomers, he wants to play a helping hand in the game’s domestic development within Uruguay.
“I really want to push rugby league into the picture,” he says.
“We’ve seen other countries develop domestic competitions off the back of heritage players competing in Australia, and I’d like to think Uruguay could form its own league.
“I think there is loads of potential.
“Right now, I’m thinking of a stack of guys I know in Uruguay who would be suitable.”
>> The Rise of The Underdogs on September 30 at Liverpool All Saints, Hillier Oval, Liverpool, features a full day of international matches from 1pm, with Malta Under 16 playing Africa United Under 16, Latin Heat Development facing ASEAN (South East Asia) at 3pm, Chile playing Thailand at 5.15pm, with the El Salvador v Uruguay showpiece at 7.30pm. Tickets are $10 an individual or $15 for two adults and children.
The 100% volunteer-run Latin American Rugby League is supported by Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerias, Brisbane City Council, Shield Security Pty Ltd, Tattoo Tears, One Big Switch, Cast Graphics, Serious About Rugby League, Retro-Com Digital TV Specialists, Colombianos en Brisbane, EMSA Education and Migration Services Australia, Raw Juicery, SEMCAR Mechanics, Lichtnauer and Associates Accountants, Cabramatta Ink Tattoo, Majestic Property Maintenance, musician Royal El ‘ Latino, Radio Austral and Fighting For Fitness Gym.