By Robert Burgin
Supporters aiming to catch a glimpse of the surprise packets of this year’s Rugby League World Cup will be able to do so for a couple of tins of pet food.
Two clubs with proximity to the Amazon Rainforest – Maringá and Melina – are expected to provide more than half of the athletes for Brazil’s history-making women’s team at the World Cup in November.
And when they meet this Saturday, May 7, at 20,000-seat Willie Davids Stadium in the middle of Maringá, the fee at the gate will be an unusual currency.
“Entry: One packet of rations for dogs or cats” says one advertisement in Portuguese. Another advises donating up to 1 kilo of pet food.
It’s been an eye-catching promotion to one of the biggest games of the Brasil Rugby League calendar – with Melina the nation’s reigning 13-a-side champions and Maringá winning this year’s 9-a-side pre-season tournament.
Spearheading the drive are Maringá figureheads Margrith Weiss and Lucas Viñas Vieira, both ardent animal lovers.
“Maringá is a city that is very supportive of animal adoption and we want to help the non-government organisations that work in this area,” says Weiss, Brasil’s representative at the World Cup draw that featured Prince Harry.
“My dog and my two cats are adopted. As one of the leaders of our male team, Lucas is very passionate about this issue also, and the secretary that takes care of our training ground is in charge of the animal welfare of Maringá.
“It’s a way of giving back something to the city for all the help we receive.”
Halfback Viñas Vieira, who featured in Brasil’s 30-14 men’s victory against Peru in 2020, has adopted three dogs he found on the street.
“Here in Brazil there is a significant problem with stray animals and abandonment,” Viñas Vieira says.
“We have several vegans and vegetarians, and people who support the cause of animals, playing at Maringá, so it is a fitting cause for us to support.”
Viñas Vieira recently celebrated the arrival of his first child with partner Sthéfany Avelino, a veterinarian who specialises in animal nutrition. She is also a player for Maringá.
Aside from the heartfelt cause at the crux of this weekend’s games, there will also be a notable occasion on the field.
After the women’s premiership match, Maringá will also face Melina in a men’s exhibition game. This will mark the first time Melina has fielded a men’s team, with hopes of it becoming a more regular occurrence in future years.