By Robert Burgin
Arguably the most exciting men’s match played in the history of Brasil Rugby League has kicked off the start of the nation’s 2021 male championship.
In front of a boisterous home crowd, Maringá Hawks scored two tries in the final 10 minutes to overcome reigning champions Urutau 30-26.
The tension was worthy of being bottled in a see-sawing affair that began with Maringa scoring first points and taking a healthy halftime lead, falling behind 20-26, then surging ahead at the death.
Urutau had been dominant the last time the two teams met – in the 2019 grand final that preceded an enforced COVID layoff for all clubs in 2020 – where they went through the season undefeated and beat Maringá 30-4 in the decider.
However, their ‘local’ rivals Maringá (situated six hours’ drive away from Urutau’s hometown of São José dos Pinhais) reaped the benefits of a concerted campaign to develop rugby league in their city in the intervening period.
Now with the greatest number of registrations across men’s and women’s league in Brasil, Maringá provided a fantastic atmosphere at Alfredo Werner Nyfeller Park, with schoolchildren lining the sidelines and the name of the city emblazoned like a Hollywood sign behind the western goalposts.
It was a much-anticipated outing, after Maringá made a tough decision in February not to contest the men’s 9-a-side championships (won by São Paulo) and to instead divert funds to their women’s aspirations of playing at the now-postponed 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
Ultimately the 13-a-side clash with Urutau came down to the very last play of the game, with the visitors behind by four points and driving a low kick that rebounded off a defender’s legs and sat up 20 metres from the tryline.
Try as they might though, the ‘Screaming Owls’ could not turn the opportunity into points and the Maringá locals flooded the field in joyous scenes.
Current national captain, Maringá halfback Lucas Viñas Vieira, ultimately proved the difference on the scoreboard with four conversions and a penalty goal from six attempts in a match that was five-tries-apiece.
Hawks teammate, athletically built backrower Fernando Mazon, ended the game with two tries, as did ever-present Urutau dangerman, centre Thomas Erzinger.
Somewhat courageously, Maringá backed up the following day to play a second game to welcome newcomers Umuarama into the competition.
Fielding some of their younger development players, the Hawks were given a fright when Umuarama competed all game long in an impressive debut which saw the end result 40-30 in favour of Maringá.
While Maringá takes an early lead in Brasil Rugby League’s Southern Conference with two wins in two appearances, encouraging signs are there for both Urutau and Umuarama when rematches are played on their home soil.
The Northern Conference, featuring São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Taubaté is yet to start.
This year’s female 13-a-side championship was won by the Melina club, based in the league’s westernmost outpost Cuiabá, in a final against coastal side Vitória.
MARINGÁ 30 (Fernando Mazon 2, Lucas Viñas Vieira, Gregory Somenzari, Igor Corazza tries; Lucas Viñas Vieira 5 goals) defeated URUTAU 26 (Thomas Erzinger 2, Rodrigo dos Santos, Murilo Manzutti, Jeferson de Azevedo Martins tries; Murilo Manzutti 3 goals) at Alfredo Werner Nyfeller Park, Maringá.
MARINGÁ 40 defeated UMUARAMA 30 (individual scoring details TBC) at Alfredo Werner Nyfeller Park, Maringá.