Written by Robert Burgin
Each week (supposedly) Brasil Rugby League team manager Robert Burgin writes about his experiences helping to guide a developing rugby league nation to its debut World Cup appearance.
Yep, you got me.
Last week I failed to lodge my column, as I got caught up in the hoopla of launching my latest book Maroon Mentality (shameless plug #1).
Maroon Mentality details the childhood challenges and inspirations that forged the resolve of all 203 Queensland State of Origin players – which simultaneously has nothing and everything to do with the journey of Brasil’s female rugby league team.
In one sense, the relevance of what occurs in the State of Origin arena is lightyears removed from what happens in an emerging rugby league nation. One is a cultural behemoth. The other is, at this stage, a very niche pursuit.
Yet, when you scratch the surface, there are mutual parables about resilience, determination, humble beginnings and learning from the past.
In writing the book I got to research and learn much about sports development theories, talent identification and psychological triggers that are no doubt proving handy as the countdown to next year’s World Cup continues.
What also became apparent in the course of completing the manuscript was how many unsung heroes there were in the upbringing of the Maroons, people you never heard about who became invaluable mentors along the way.
As I write this column on a Saturday morning, about four kilometres away is a gentleman called Paul Grundy, who will be logged into his computer with his golden retriever Penelope curled up somewhere near his ankles.
You see, every Saturday Paul conducts online coaching and development for prospective coaches in Brasil.
It’s an exercise that takes some juggling when you consider the time difference between the east coast of Australia and Brasil.
Furthermore, you have to respect that Australia’s Saturday equates to Brasil’s Friday night.
Like most places, after a long working week, Brazilians are exhausted and keen to sit back and relax, so for them to log on for tuition in a minority sport is testament to their dedication.
Paul Grundy is one of the unsung heroes of international rugby league development that I alluded to. I believe it’s not for another five years that we’ll realise just how much his weekly classes have contributed to the spread of rugby league and the standard at which it is played.
If I gaze into a crystal ball for the next few years, my belief is that at least 50 per cent of the 10 best Latin American coaches will come from Brasil, predominantly because of Paul’s regular teaching.
There’s an interesting backstory to him becoming involved with Brasil Rugby League.
Previously Paul was a long-time player, coach and committeeman with the Nambour Crushers and Coolum Colts in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast league, and a coach and selector for Wide Bay and Sunshine Coast rep squads.
Nambour is the club that former State of Origin prop Ben Ross came from, while Coolum is where Dale ‘Rowdy’ Shearer and his two sons kept the flame burning after his NRL career wound down.
Anyhow, Paul was surrounded by top-class league players from a young age.
His family ran the Yandina Hotel at one stage, where one of the workers was Queensland and Australian fullback Ray Laird.
Paul ended up marrying Laird’s daughter, while his sister married local league legend Dave Cordwell.
Fast forward several years and one of Paul’s sons, Zach, fell in love with a Brazilian exchange student while attending Coolum State High.
At age 16 Zach made the significant decision to follow his beau back to her homeland, a decision his parents were brave in agreeing to.
The result was that Zach, currently 28, and wife Hellen have now started their own family in the central Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, close to many of the hotspots for Brasil Rugby League.
Zach himself is a promising coach and has also played as five-eighth and vice-captain for Brasil’s national men’s team.
Proud father Paul has visited and lived in Brasil for extended periods as he too developed a passion for the country, providing him opportunities to refine his Portuguese language skills over several years.
His desire to contribute to the growth of the sport he’s always loved in a new nation has opened a new chapter to his life.
The plan was for both Paul and me to be Brasil right about now, but a pesky global pandemic has pushed back the arrival date several times.
In the meantime, it’s two bald blokes sitting on their laptops and desktops on the other side of the Pacific, helping to formulate plans with the best of intentions, which are ultimately at the mercy of the daily evolutions of the COVID situation.
Some people take a dim view of Australians being involved in overseas teams, particularly developing nations.
It’s important to note that the local Brazilian officials specifically requested our assistance, we didn’t rush in and put our hands up for the job. We’re fully aware of the aspersions to ‘colonialism’ or of having foreign figures meddling in internal affairs.
Indeed, we insisted our presence shouldn’t be at the expense of domestic officials from Brasil having the opportunity to travel to England for the World Cup, and we are extremely mindful of encouraging capacity and independence for the future.
In Paul’s case, it’s simply a fact that you need someone to coach the coaches. In a nation where there was previously no coach accreditation system and there were no professional coaches, you need someone from outside with that experience to provide the initial momentum.
I hope he receives credit for what he’s done so far and look forward to where this journey will take us.
At least COVID has provided us a window to follow other pursuits the last few months…say like writing and releasing a new book about State of Origin (shameless plug #2).
If you fancy supporting underdogs Brasil on their World Cup journey, it is possible to make a one-off or weekly donation that will go towards the costs of their training camps and warm-up fixtures – or even get your name on their official training shirt. Click here to support Brasil’s women’s team, a team that will consist of approximately 90 per cent domestically-based players.