How Chile are helping to keep the rugby league flame alive in South America

Nick Doberer is a man on a mission to encourage more players of Chilean heritage to represent their country and hopefully inspire people in Chile to take up the sport too. 

HAVING scraped home 36-22 against North Macedonian Lions in the recent Cooper Speers Developing Nations challenge, Chilean rugby league is alive and well.

Not only is this a shot of adrenaline for the Weichafes, but it also sends a clear message that rugby league in South America refuses to give up.

One player that has been a pillar of strength for the Chilean national side is their inspirational captain Nick Doberer, whose fierce allegiance to his bloodlines is unsurpassed.

Whilst the 34-year-old skipper may not be a household name as such, he is certainly well respected by his peers right around the globe, despite now being now in the twilight of his career.

“My mum was born in Chile but grew up in Sydney after leaving to start a new life in Australia.

“She then moved to the Sunshine Coast and I was born in Nambour, which is a small sugar cane town in the Sunshine Coast hinterland region.

“I do not have a rugby league background in my family as such, so everything I learned about the game came from being self-taught.

“In fact, my grandfather was quite a handy soccer player and played for Club Deportivo University Cattolica in Santiago, but I had zero interest playing the game with the round ball.”

Living in Queensland, Doberer instead fell in love with the oval ball taking an interest in rugby league, after watching Brisbane Broncos strut their stuff on local TV.

“The Broncos have always been my team.

“Seeing those guys play just made me want to try rugby league for myself and give it a go.

“It is quite rare to see South American kids playing rugby league, but I thought I was good enough to at least try it for myself.”

It was Doberer’s move to Sydney that he really hit the ground running with rugby league.

The workaholic back rower signed up to his local club Leichhardt Juniors, in the powerful Balmain competition.

“I joined the Leichhardt Wanderers and then had a stint with the Clovelly Crocodiles who are quite a strong club.

“I broke my collarbone at Clovelly and my confidence was a bit shattered after that, so I actually gave the game up for a bit and decided to dabble in a bit of rugby union instead.

“Robert Burgin lured me back to rugby league when he formed the South American outfit Latin Heat.

“The chance to play alongside my compatriots and other South American players was too tempting, so I dusted off the boots and signed up for the Heat to help out Rob.”

But it was Doberer’s Chilean debut in 2018 (also the Weichafes international debut) against El Salvador at Newtown, that the South American cherishes the most from his rugby league career.

“Running out representing my heritage is something that I will never forget.

“To get that first win (Chile defeated El Salvador 58-20) really set the tone in what we had worked hard in achieving prior to our international debut.

“When I pulled on that jersey and was standing side by side with my Chilean brothers whilst our national anthem was playing, that is when the emotions started to take over, it was surreal.”

Doberer has gone one step further given his Chilean bloodlines by having the full length of one leg tattooed with his mother’s maiden name Figueroa, which is a very identifiable Latino name.

“I have been lucky enough to travel back home to South America with the Chilean national team on more than one occasion now, so it is great that I get to plant both feet on opposite sides of the world, all whilst playing a game I love.”

Having set the benchmark for other Chilean players through his hard and tough style of play, Doberer was handed the task of skipper to steer his teammates into battle.

Whilst there was a select number who could have donned the captain’s hat, the respect that he has from his fellow players is the reason he was the obvious choice.

“Not only have I been blessed to represent my mother’s country of birth, to be made captain was something else, it is something I cherish.

“Being one of the pioneering players for the Weichafes, the captaincy is not only something I hold in high esteem, but to have the other players support whilst I lead them out, is something that money cannot buy.

“For Chile rugby league and for rugby league in South America to gain traction from here on in, we need to keep active on the international scene.

“Playing more internationals throughout the year is something that we need to work towards to remain competitive.

“I would love to see the Weichafes go into battle against other nations that we have not played as yet to show them just how far we have come in terms of progression.

“However, with a lack of sponsorship, we are continually fighting an uphill battle in terms of finances, but we are surviving as best as we can.”

Whilst Chile rugby league may have done it the hard way since their inception, they are a nation that will play anyone, anywhere, anytime.

“We just have to keep the younger kids interested so that they attract more young players after them.

“I have kids myself and there is nothing more that I want in see than my own children follow me representing Chile.

“Chile rugby league has a long way to go in terms of improvement, but I figure if we have lasted this long on the limited budget we have had to endure, then we can withstand any task that is put in front us.”

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 495 (April 2024)

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