‘We want to be an inspiration’: Brazil’s Amazonas prepare for historic World Cup debut

The World Cup will experience its first South American flavour tomorrow (Tuesday) when Brazil’s Amazonas make their debut.

They will take on hosts England to kick off the women’s tournament at Headingley, the culmination of a remarkable journey to be playing on this stage.

Rugby League is still at an embryonic stage in Brazil, with only around 150 women and 150 men currently playing the game.

They are spread out across a vast country, but largely in the smaller cities as the biggest ones have no parks in which to play.

Efforts to grow the sport have been spearheaded by an Australian, Paul Grundy, who is head coach of the Amazonas but takes on a wide-ranging brief developing the game in Brazil.

Grundy joined in 2016 after his son Zach moved to the samba nation and says the growth of Rugby League there has been “phenomenal”.

He told League Express: “People have heard of it. When you explain it over there, you say the ball is shaped like this (an oval). 

“As soon as they see the game and you demonstrate the game to anybody over there, they go crazy for it. The idea of holding onto a ball and tackling other players is something they don’t have in soccer.

“Young kids especially can pick up a ball and run with it, it’s way different from soccer for that reason. It’s different from union in another way because it’s a faster game and they find it more interesting.”

The hope now is that playing on a global stage in a major tournament, facing not only England but also Papua New Guinea and Canada in Group A, will further propel their progress.

“What I really want is to be an inspiration to the next generation,” said captain Maria Graf, a former football and volleyball player who is also a rugby union referee, and only discovered Rugby League four years ago after an invitation to play for Brazil in their first international, a win against Argentina.

“In Brazil the women don’t have much visibility in sport. I think we need more visibility in any sport. We are strong, we deserve this. It’s a dream but we can do this.”

Last week’s creditable 12-4 warm-up defeat to France in Featherstone was only Brazil’s second ever match, with Graf one of the few players from the first to remain involved.

She admits it will be a great challenge for the Amazonas to face a team of England’s calibre but hopes the squad enjoy the whole experience.

“I am anxious but it’s an honour. It was a tough journey for us,” said Graf.

“To play against England, the host nation, is like a trophy. Whatever happens we will do our best. 

“What I always say to my team is we need to finish the game happy. For me that’s most important.”