FORMER Latin Heat and Chile Rugby League captain Jonathan Espinoza has confirmed he will switch allegiances to represent debutants Nicaragua at this weekend’s Latino Nines in Western Sydney.
A pioneer of the sport in Latin America, who undertook two self-funded trips to Chile to get the ball rolling for development in that part of the world, Espinoza has decided to honour his Nicaraguan father this weekend at Hillier Oval.
“It was an extremely tough decision,” said multi-skilled forward Espinoza.
“I don’t want people thinking I’m abandoning Chile or jumping ship for any negative reason.
“Nicaragua is a new nation to the sport and needs a hand.
“I just want to help out and represent my Dad’s side for the first time.”
To add fuel to the fire, Nicaragua has been drawn in Pool A and has guaranteed games against ‘local rival’ El Salvador and reigning champion Chile.
Espinoza was among the players who represented Chile at Jacksonville in 2018 when the Weichafes became the first Latin American nation to contest a Rugby League World Cup qualifier.
The previous year, Espinoza scored six tries in two games when filling in at hooker for Chile at the Latin American Championships.
He captained Chile to the first Latino Nines title in 2015 and the nation remains undefeated so far in the tournament, despite two extremely close calls against Peru.
Espinoza’s trips to Chile in preceding years helped set the foundation for all Latin American domestic competitions, attending schools, conducting media interviews and distributing over 100kg of rugby league equipment.
In recent years he has played club football for both Griffith University Dragons, Bulimba Bulldogs and Carina Tigers.
Joining Espinoza in the largely unknown Nicaragua squad will be Michael Zamora-Rivera, who previously represented El Salvador and participated for Latin Heat at the Toronto Nines earlier in 2019.
GYG LATINO RUGBY LEAGUE NINES
Saturday, September 7 (10am-5pm)
Liverpool All Saints RLFC, Hillier Oval, Memorial Avenue, Liverpool, New South Wales
POOL A – Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua
POOL B – Brasil, Peru, Uruguay
9am – Gates Open
10am – El Salvador v Nicaragua
10.30am – Peru v Uruguay
11am – Chile v El Salvador
11.30am – Brasil v Peru
12.00pm – Nicaragua v Chile
12.30pm – Uruguay v Brasil
1pm – Interval
1.30pm – Winner Pool A v 2nd Pool B – Semi Final 1
2pm – Winner Pool B v 2nd Pool A – Semi Final 2
2.30pm – 3rd Pool A v 3rd Pool B – Fifth Place Consolation Final
3pm – Loser Semi Final 1 v Loser Semi Final 2 – Third Place Decider
4pm – Winner Semi Final 1 v Winner Semi Final 2 – Championship Final
Chile (1st), Peru (2nd), Uruguay (3rd), Colombia (4th), El Salvador (5th), Ecuador (6th).
Final: Chile 20 d Peru 14
Player of the Tournament: Daniel Aguirre-Acevedo (Chile)
Chile (1st), Peru (2nd), El Salvador (3rd), Ecuador (4th), Colombia (5th), Uruguay (6th)
Final: Chile 14 d Peru 10
Player of the Tournament: James Horvat (Chile)
*Latino Nines was not held in 2017 or 2018 due to lead-up to the Emerging Nations World Championship