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What could Chilean Rugby League learn from the town of Innisfail – the home of State of Origin luminaries Billy Slater, Kerry Boustead and Ty Williams?

The first secret is in not underestimating the talent you will find amid a moderate population of roughly 7,500.
You see, the population of Innisfail is marginally smaller than the Chilean territory of Rapa Nui, otherwise known around the world as Easter Island or Isla de Pascua.

Rapa Nui is of specific interest to league officials from Chile, who are making a concerted effort to tap into the Polynesian and mainland Indigenous cultures of their nation.

“A lot of people probably don’t realise that Chile has a sizeable Polynesian population,” spokesperson Rodrigo Millar said.

“Not only do you have just under 8,000 people living on Rapa Nui, but over the decades an even larger number of Polynesian people have migrated to the mainland.

“Combined, the Polynesian population of all Chilean territories is roughly the same as 2021 World Cup qualifiers the Cook Islands, and much larger than somewhere like Niue, which also performs admirably in the same sport.

“A consequence of this is that Chilean nationals have formed strong relations with Polynesians all around the world, including in the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand, and as a proud seafaring nation with shared Christian beliefs, there are Chilean bloodlines spread further than most may anticipate.”

At the recent Rugby League World Cup 2021 qualifiers, Chile fielded several players with Polynesian and Melanesian heritage, including Iziah Esera Catrileo, Patrick Caamano, Mana Castillo Sioni, Christian Sandoval and Jaden Laing.
Foundation Chilean player Carlos Astorga Gonzalez was born on Rapa Nui, while it has been highlighted previously that Canterbury Bulldogs player Marcelo Montoya is of mixed Fijian and Chilean heritage.

What is interesting about several of the aforementioned players, and other Chilean players not listed, is that some are also descended from Indigenous tribes which occupied South America prior to European colonisation.

While the resilient Mapuche warriors, once the southern neighbours of the Incans, are perhaps the most commonly-cited Indigenous tribe in Chile, there are several groups and collective identities which modern Chileans continue to associate with.

“One of rugby league’s real strongholds in Chile is the Bio Bio region, which has a heavy continued Indigenous influence,” Mr Millar said.

“We’re keen for league to harness the talent that the Indigenous people possess, and already we’ve started to see individuals emerge in leadership roles within our organisation.

“For whatever reasons, there is some antipathy towards other sports, where the Indigenous people do not believe they have been considered equally for representative selection, but from the get-go we’ve promoted rugby league as a sport that is fully inclusive.

“The entire population of Chile is teetering on 20 million at the moment, and we want people to know that no matter if you are born in the Andes, in the desert, in the islands or the bigger cities, everyone will be considered and encouraged equally.”

Interestingly, there are only two places you can fly directly from Rapa Nui on a commercial airliner – Chile’s capital of Santiago and Papeete on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti – which poses food for thought for international league fixtures down the track.

One of the closest territories to the supremely isolated Rapa Nui is the Pitcairn Islands, where international rugby league and NRL star Dylan Walker is from.