The year was 2013, a few weeks shy of the Rugby League World Cup, and a handful of clubmates were watching sport and blowing the froth off a few ales at Brisbane’s Jubilee Hotel.
There was boxing on the big screen (Anthony Joshua to be precise), proceeded by curtain-raiser matches to the Roosters v Sea Eagles NRL Grand Final.
From virtually nowhere, a scuffle erupted.
Details of that fracas now provide an entertaining backdrop to upcoming events on December 7, 2019, when rugby league will be reborn in California with a match between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the same day that the Rugby League World Cup visits South America for the first time.
“Haha, yeah let’s just say we were debating the merits of rugby league in North America versus South America,” laughs Thomas Stevenson, a driving force between the upcoming showdown between the LA Mongrel and San Francisco Savage.
Stevenson was one of the combatants in the aforementioned skirmish.
The other was Latin American Rugby League co-founder Robert Burgin.
At the time, they were both playing with Wests Mitchelton Panthers, a modest-albeit-historic club from the north-west of Queensland’s capital.
“Anybody who has had a drink with Tommy knows he can be excitable – I believe ‘pest’ might be another way to describe it,” recalls Burgin.
“I think our own coach almost come to blows with Tommy a few weeks before that.
“Anyhow, at the time I was training fairly regularly in boxing as well as league, and Tommy started talking about how we should have a bout between us to raise funds for the club and charity.
“It escalated. Tommy kept insisting and was more or less challenging me on the spot, slapping and squaring up.
“I let it go for a while, but after a few more drinks, I’d reached my limits of tolerance and started to get my back up. I think I put my drink down and we were pretty much face-to-face.
“Then my wife jumped in between us and barrelled us away. She can throw them, so I think we both slunk off to different parts of the pub to cool down and avoid her.”
The great irony is that, following the altercation, both Stevenson and Burgin became firm friends, sharing lifts to training, exchanging ideas, and discussing the global rugby league landscape.
Although Latin Heat was already in existence at this point, it was merely in infancy and there were less than 20 Latino rugby league players who had been identified.
Californian Rugby League was at a nadir after some earlier activity, and Stevenson had his sights set on making a difference in the USA, even though he set sail for the East Coast first, joining White Plains Wombats in 2017.
“Despite the earlier blow-up, afterwards we found out we were pretty similar blokes,” says Burgin.
“Besides both being ginger backrowers, we also discovered we were both into writing, music, movies, politics and a whole other bunch of stuff that doesn’t always get discussed in footy circles.
“We’d talk a lot about promotion and marketing and basically bringing people together and solving the world’s problems.
“Tom’s a pretty clued-in bloke, he’s written and produced a movie and studied law, and I can see why he is having great success with helping to get something back up and running in California.
“The only shame for me is that his big event is the same day as the World Cup comes to Sao Paulo, otherwise I’d love to be there to support him.”
Prior to Stevenson departing for his time in the USA, he reunited with Burgin and mutual friend Adam Wright, host of the Any Given Monday podcast, to have another beer at the Jubilee Hotel, this time to watch the Pacific Test and enjoy a more convivial atmosphere.
In another link between California Rugby League and Latin American Rugby League, former North Queensland Cowboys player John Manning will coach the LA team.
Manning and Burgin have been good friends since crossing paths in Townsville in 2001, and the ex-Cowboys forward assisted with defensive drills early in the development of Latin Heat.
LA faces San Francisco at Boxer Stadium, SF, on December 7, with a full day of activities planned from noon.
Meanwhile, delegates from the 2021 Rugby League World Cup will tour Sao Paulo with the trophy on the same day, heralding Brasil’s groundbreaking qualification for the women’s tournament.
While in Brasil, the delegates will also be conducting governance workshops and observing domestic championship games.
Hopes are that arrangements can be made for a California Rugby League v Latin American Rugby League or Mexico Rugby League game in 2020.
PS. If you’ve read this far you should click here to listen to Stevenson’s hilarious recent drunken podcast with Rugby League in America.