EL SALVADOR has registered a historic first win in Test rugby league, while Chile went within 90 seconds of becoming the first stand-alone Latin American nation to defeat an Asian opposition.
On a fine but blustery day at All Saints Liverpool in western Sydney, El Salvador posted a resounding and somewhat unexpected 46-10 victory against Latino rivals Uruguay.
After goal-kickers struggled throughout the GYG Rise of the Underdogs event – featuring four multicultural fixtures – the Central Americans converted seven of eight tries as everything clicked for them in the day’s showpiece challenge.
The big win has immense significance for El Salvador, a nation of just 6.5 million people which has fared poorly for decades in football and rugby union results, and is regularly named among the most places to live.
The Trueno Azul (Blue Thunder) were coming off a 32-12 loss to Thailand and a 58-20 loss to Chile in their only previous Test rugby league appearances.
But after devoting themselves to a three-month preparation before the Uruguay game, the Salvadorenos reaped the rewards of hard work in a clash that was expected to be tight and go either way.
Making the win ever more meritorious, El Salvador played most of the game with just two interchanges, after one player fell gravely ill hours beforehand and another suffered a serious shoulder injury in the first half.
Gold Coast-based fullback Anthony Maatouk was a star on debut with three tries for El Salvador, while former prison inmate Oscar Mendoza continued his remarkable personal transformation by posting the opening try and kicking four goals from four attempts, several from the sideline.
Uruguay had been level 6-all until the 24th minute courtesy of a try by their own star debutant Joel Smith, but fell away in the 20 minutes before and after halftime.
In a heated affair that displayed plenty of the fiery Latino spirit, two players were sin binned for fighting after a second half melee.
Earlier in the day, Chile looked set for its second win in Test rugby league and its first against a non-Latin American opponent, as the Weichafes led Thailand 20-8 with less than 25 minutes to play.
However centre Suhttirak Choengkhiri had other ideas, scoring a second match-turning try with two minutes left on the clock.
Thai fullback Matthew Waugh had a chance to steal the result with a conversion from out wide, but the kick pulled up short in the strong wind and the two nations were left level.
Chilean five-eighth Nick Doberer received the Coach’s Player Award, then left quickly for hospital where he welcomed the birth of his first child within hours.
Chile fielded arguably its strongest squad to date against Thailand, but was still without close to 10 blue chip rugby league players who have been identified as of Chilean heritage, giving promising signs for the future.
The Chilenos will host the inaugural Latin American Rugby League Championships in Los Angeles, Chile, on November 17-18, with Argentina, Mexico and Colombia the other teams in the final four.
Following that, they aim to feature in qualification matches for the 2021 World Cup.
In yesterday’s other results, ASEAN Conference (a conglomerate of South East Asian nations) defeated a Latin American Development side 50-16 in an entertaining display representative of 40 nationalities.
Malta began the day with a 24-18 win against Africa United in an under 16s challenge where the lead changed regularly and Africa United attacked the line late.
GYG Latin Heat head coach Jye Sommers will select a side from yesterday’s fixtures to represent the Latin American Elite Squad against Africa United’s men’s team at Cabramatta on October 14.
That match will be the curtain-raiser to Malta v Hungary.
EL SALVADOR 46 (Anthony Maatouk 3, Miguel Alarcon 2, Oscar Mendoza, Alvaro Alarcon, Javier Alarcon tries; Oscar Mendoza 4, Fredy Arteaga-Figueroa 2, Jono Godinez goals) beat URUGUAY 10 (Joel Smith, Michael Leon tries; Jesse Graham goal). Halftime: El Salvador 30-6.
CHILE 20 (Jose Nitor Alvear, Patrick Caamano, Alvin Olivares Ekes, Jon Munoz tries; James Horvat 2 goals) drew THAILAND 20 (Suhttirak Choengkhiri 2, Carlin Millar, Vince Aversa tries). Halftime: Chile 12-8.
ASEAN CONFERENCE 50 (Ben Ryan 2, Josh Foley 2, Ricky Williamson 2, Rocky Enriquez, Paul Nguyen, Ryan Clarke, Lam Nguyen, Adam Clarke tries; Mark Roberts 2, Ricky Williamson goals) d LATIN AMERICA DEVELOPMENT SQUAD 16 (Sean Day-Olarte, Alvaro Avaria, Claude Jackson tries; Beau Sanchez, Frank Altamirano goals). Halftime: ASEAN 38-6.
MALTA UNDER-16 24 (Josh Agius 2, Matthew Camilleri, Tanner Zadravec, Ethan Pritchard tries; Kaylib Savage2 goals) beat AFRICA UNITED UNDER-16 18 (Gabriel King 2, Sadee Sublaban, Omari Wakilongo tries; Sadee Sublaban goal). Halftime: Malta 14-8.