The Chilean who learnt league in remote Cape York

The Chilean who learnt league in remote Cape York

When Pablo Zahoran's grandfather fled Hungary for Argentina after the Second World War, he could never have envisaged his grandson one day learning to play rugby league from Indigenous Australians and earning representative selection.

While Zahoran (pictured above, middle) will suit up for Queensland in the GYG Latino Origin contest at Noosa's Pirate Park this Saturday, he embodies a multitude of cultures all at once.

Born in Argentina, Zahoran was raised in Santiago, Chile, then first came to Australia as a 25-year-old.

He is sure to stand out in the Latino Origin - a match which pits rugby league players with heritage in South and Central America head-to-head – and not only because of his blistering speed.

At 194cm in height and with blond hair and fair features, he isn't your stereotypical looking Latin American.

Rugby league is a great way to meet people in Aurukun, says Zahoran.
Rugby league is a great way to meet people in Aurukun, says Zahoran.

Following brother

But then again, his path has been far from ordinary.

"My brother Miguel migrated from Chile to Australia before me for a better life, and he ended up marrying a teacher who got posted to Aurukun in Cape York," Pablo explains.

"His speciality was cabinet making and he took on a role where he helped the local Indigenous people become tradespeople.

"I followed him up there when I arrived and it was a crazy experience. It was so different to what you see in the rest of Australia."

With some experience playing rugby union back in Chile, Pablo seized on an opportunity to better ingratiate himself with the community when several rugby league carnivals were held.

Aurukun, where they love their rugby league.
Aurukun, where they love their rugby league.

Thurston 'like a god'

But he started from a very low base, as the 13-man code was completely foreign to him.

"Rugby league is quite surprising and different for those of us from a Latin American background, because it was not played much there until just a few years ago," Zahoran says.

"I arrived in a place where everybody's idol was Johnathan Thurston. Seriously, they treated him as if he was a god.

"I thought playing rugby league would be an amazing way to get to know people, so I gave it a go.

"The players up there were very fast and strong, and there wasn't much else to do, so nearly everybody went straight from work or school to the rugby league field."

Zahoran arrived in Aurukun at a time when there was heightened unrest in the community, prominently documented in national news bulletins of the time.

Rugby league - the biggest show in town.
Rugby league - the biggest show in town.

Friendly surprise

He reveals he initially held some trepidation, but soon became accustomed to Indigenous ways and grew to love the community for its friendliness.

"Aurukun has had a bad reputation, and I was expecting people to be really aggressive," says Zahoran.

"But it was nothing like that, and I think a large part of my experience was because I entered the community via rugby league.

You get outside your comfort zone and it makes you a better person

Pablo Zahoran

"Everyone was really nice to me. It's kind of like rugby league is a Queensland tradition and to be a real Queenslander you have to at least give it a try.

"My complete philosophy to life is that experience is everything. You get outside your comfort zone and it makes you a better person, and travelling is obviously very central to that."

Zahoran holds three passports (Hungary, Chile and Argentina) and is in the process of applying for permanent residency in Australia.

To make matters more diverse, he is married to a Chinese-Canadian who celebrated her Australian citizenship just this week.

Chilean Pablo Zahoran, right, is pumped to play for Queensland in the GYG Latino Origin on Saturday.
Chilean Pablo Zahoran, right, is pumped to play for Queensland in the GYG Latino Origin on Saturday.

For Dad

Pablo's father, who first instilled him with a love of the rugby codes, is still playing union back in Chile at the age of 71.

The younger Zahoran, now a Brisbane Broncos fan who lived until recently at Milton near Suncorp Stadium, would like to make his dad proud by leaving a mark on Latino Origin.

"I played in the game last year (when Queensland Latino lost to New South Wales Latino) and I was really upset with my performance to be honest," says Pablo, who is in the process of moving to Bribie Island.

"I could have done so many more things ... not missed tackles, held the ball.

"I'm sure I can play better than that."

National selections

Saturday's match will double as a selection trial for the 2018 Emerging Nations World Championship, to be held in western Sydney in September-October.

The Emerging Nations World Championship is effectively a second-tier tournament for those nations who don't participate in the fully fledged Rugby League World Cup.

Zahoran is also eligible to represent Chile in a World Cup qualifier against the US later in 2018.

Following the Latino Origin clash, Noosa Pirates will face Caboolture Snakes in the Vantage Homes Cup.

Match details

GYG LATINO Origin
Saturday, June 9
Pirate Park, Sir Thomas Riley Park
Shields Street, Tewantin
$7 entry. All proceeds to assisting rugby league in Latin American communities.

Background

The 100 per cent volunteer-run Latin American Rugby League has been supported primarily by Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerias, Shield Security Pty Ltd, Tattoo Tears, Cast Graphics, IntaGas Services, LS Tax & Accounting Services, Retro-Com Digital TV Specialists, Colombianos en Brisbane, GMA Tourism, EMSA Education and Migration Services Australia, Lichtnauer and Associates Accountants, The Edge Home Loans, Oaky North Lodge CFMEU, ACTIVE Rehabilitation Physiotherapy, Radio Austral and Fighting For Fitness Gym.