There are players from four other clubs in their 13-man squad for the Under-19 Nines tournament, with players originating from afar afield as Mpumalanga, Western Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal. TUKS second rower Dwayne Botma may become the first Paraguayan-born rugby league player to appear at a major international tournament.
South Africa are relatively inexperienced and young compared to some squads but make up for that in size. TUKS prop Christo Lategan, aged 18, weighs in at 116kg while his club and Rhinos team-mate 6ft 3in forward Glen Rademan, aged 19, is over 100kg.
The South African squad is hard at work getting ready for the Commonwealth Championships. They has been facing several challenges, with the biggest the constant refusal for the South African Sport Commonwealth and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) to even recognize rugby league as a sport.
“This has serious implication, the toughest that we don’t qualify for funding from the government,” explained liaison officer Chris Botes. “The funding for the tour has to come from the players themselves, SARL and other private sponsors. To add to the challenges, several of the players are from previously disadvantaged areas, and to even get to practice is sometimes not possible due to lack of funding, transport and also basic support systems. In spite of the challenges, the management team was able to hold trials in three different regions - Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Western Cape.”
An initial training group of 40 players has been whittled down to a squad of thirteen players. While South Africa can take 15 players, the funding required is not available. The Rhinos XIII are training together in regional training groups on a weekly basis.
“It’s important to realize that South Africa is five times bigger than the UK and some of the players are 2000km away from the training camps,” says Botes. “Once a month they get together at a national training camp and train together as a squad. Some players drive up to 400 miles return just to make practice. Since quite a few are still in school, or first year students, many a weekend had to be sacrificed. It’s a challenge juggling studies, exams and training schedules. Each and every player must be applauded for his commitment to the game.”
In the RLCC2014 tournament at Cumbernauld’s Broadwood Stadium in North Lanarkshire, which is part of the Homecoming Scotland festival of events, South Africa are in Group B where they will face Papua New Guinea, Canada and England. They will return the next day for the play-offs and semi-finals stage. Entry on both days is FREE.
See more on Twitter @RLCommChamp
Facebook – Rugby League 2014 Commonwealth Championships