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Latin American rugby league players dream big -

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MARK COLVIN: When you think of Rugby League, parts of Australia and the north of England mainly come to mind.

But the game's got a foothold in Latin America too, and rugby league players from there appeared in Sydney over the weekend.

Representative teams from El Salvador and Chile took part in the Cabramatta International 9s, and although results didn't go their way, players and officials hope this could be the start of something big.

Joanna Lester reports.

JOANNA LESTER: Three years ago, Brisbane-based rugby league enthusiast Robert Burgin realised there was one part of the world that was missing from the rugby league landscape.

ROBERT BURGIN: I went backpacking around South America four or five times, and when I was over there one time I just thought, 'Why aren't they involved in the world competition?'

You know, we're spreading to so many places, but there wasn't an allowance; and from that, I just showed some people some YouTube clips when I was backpacking on a trip and they loved it.

I showed them State of Origin biggest hits, or something like that, and I thought, no, there's something in this.

JOANNA LESTER: Burgin is the co-founder of Latin Heat, a representative rugby league team launched in 2013 comprising players of Latin American heritage who live in Australia.

Using the team as a vehicle, Burgin is working to grow the sport in Latin America, as well as among Latinos in Australia.

There are now domestic rugby league competitions in Argentina and Mexico, while organisers in Brazil, Chile, El Salvador and Colombia have also expressed an interest.

As the Latin Heat player pool grows, Burgin and his colleagues have assembled teams representing single countries.

Two of the first are Chile and El Salvador, and both played alongside Latin Heat at the Cabramatta International 9s in Sydney on Saturday.

(Sound of Latin Heat match)

JOANNA LESTER: El Salvador player and team manager Daniel Godinez was born in El Salvador, and moved to Australia as a child to escape the civil war.

DANIEL GODINEZ: When I first heard about it, I was like: 'Wow, Latinos playing rugby league? That to me is an innovative concept.'

JOANNA LESTER: The El Salvador rugby league team started with several members of his family and a few non-Salvadorian players to make up the numbers.

This year they were able to field a full Salvadorian side for the first time.

DANIEL GODINEZ: We've come with the mentality that we come from a very tough place, we've tried to become part of the Australian culture here, and we're always trying to take a step forward, and what Rob's doing with the Latin Heat, and bringing El Salvador together, and Chile together, and all the other teams together, is amazing.

So it's very easy for us to integrate together and make the Latin people that come over here feel much more welcome.

JOANNA LESTER: Luis Guillermo Fhon was born in Peru and moved to Australia with his family at the age of seven.

He's been involved in Latin Heat from the start, and believes there's huge potential for Latin Americans to participate in Rugby League.

LUIS GUILLERMO FHON: In 10 years' time you don't know where we're going to be, it would be amazing if we can have a Latin Heat taking on some of the big nations like Samoa, Tonga; it would be amazing if we could have a stand-alone nation like Chile, El Salvador, Peru, you know just representing, and just making strides forward.

Because in 10, 20 years' time when you're not playing and your grandkids are playing, you can say you were part of it.

So that's the biggest thing for me, I can say that I contributed to the Latin culture going forward in rugby league, something that they're not known for.

JOANNA LESTER: While none of the Latino teams managed to record a win at the Cabramatta 9s, Latin Heat co-founder Robert Burgin is aiming high.

ROBERT BURGIN: The big goal is to play qualifiers for the World Cup. We really would like to see a team such as Argentina have a go at the 2021 World Cup.

They're in a good position at the moment, it's really built over there the last two years with Carlos Varela; Mexico as well, they both filled in an application to play in the Universities World Cup here next year.

So I'd at least like to see them playing qualifiers in the Americas, if not qualifying for the 2021 World Cup.

MARK COLVIN: Latin Heat rugby league co-founder Robert Burgin ending that report from Joanna Lester.