Courtesy of Tony Webeck and NRL.COM
Four South American rugby league players are promising to take the game to uncharted territory by entering the race to appear on Channel Nine’s new rugby league reality TV show to become the first NRL Rookie.
When entries closed last week four members of the Latin Heat rugby league team had submitted their entries and are now anxiously waiting to hear whether their relatively new passion could turn into a place on an NRL team roster.
Although they come together regularly to represent the Latin Heat, the quartet play their rugby league in Brisbane, Canberra, Wyong and the United States and boast a melting pot of cultural backgrounds never before seen in the NRL.
Co-captain and one of the earliest members of the Heat, Jonathan Espinoza was born to a Nicaraguan father and Chilean mother and raised in Tasmania on a diet of AFL and basketball and says the NRL Rookie is a wonderful opportunity to open the game up to people of Latino descent.
“We’ve been playing for the Latin Heat for the last couple of years and we thought this could be an opportunity for us to start having Latinos in the first grade teams,” said Espinoza, who plays for Griffith University in Brisbane and is referred to as the ‘Dave Taylor of Latino rugby league’.
“From when we first started, Latinos playing rugby league was pretty much a joke because we’re not known for playing rugby league but we’ve now got outstanding young players such as Daniel Navarro and Brandon Tobar.
“It’s helped to show the community that the Latin Heat, while we may not be the best, we have some hidden talents and they are on their way to making representative teams.
“When people think rugby league they think Australia, England, New Zealand and Polynesian countries, it’s never a Latino thing so for me it’s been nothing but pride.
“Win, lose or draw, it’s an honour to play alongside boys who are from the same bloodlines as me and having that mixture of different countries from the South American region uniting together to play an Australian game that we want to bring across to our countries, it’s inspiring to be honest.”
Having made their debut at the Mitchelton Nines in Brisbane in September 2013, the Latin Heat have twice played Tests against the Philippines, recorded a big win over a Portugal team and have been regulars at the Cabramatta International Nines in Sydney the past two years.
Along with Espinoza, the Latin Heat hopefuls are Eduardo Wegener (a Chilean DJ from Canberra), Nicholas Cama (a Fiji A representative with a Uruguayan mother) and Tony Rodriguez (a Latino American living in New York who plays for the Brooklyn Kings in the USARL).
With a nickname of ‘El Macho’, Wegener is sure to generate plenty of interest should he make the final cut given he is 125 kilograms, has soft hands and plays for the West Belconnen Warriors in the Canberra competition.
Introduced to rugby league by a Chilean pastor at his grandfather’s funeral, Wegener travelled from Canberra to Cabramatta to train with the Latin Heat in 2014 and mixes his rugby league commitment with his other passion as a DJ, where he once opened for Triple J Hottest 100 runners up Peking Duk.
“If one of the boys from the Latin Heat makes it into the house I know it’s never going to be a negative thing. It’s never going to be a boring time with any of the Latin Heat boys,” Espinoza promised.
“We’ll bring flavour, we’ll bring that change of culture and we’ll give people maybe a different perspective on rugby league through our own experiences and through our backgrounds.
“We get to connect with other guys and share what we’ve experienced and the way we’ve been brought up with a country that’s not as common with the sport.”
For more information head to nrlrookie.com