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First South American to play NRL is not who you expect

A chance find has revealed the first player of South American heritage to represent Australia and to feature in State of Origin.

Defying popular belief that he was of Indigenous Australian heritage, it has been proven that Chris McKenna's mother was actually born in the tiny South American country of Guyana.

McKenna represented Australia twice, Queensland eight times and played more than 300 first grade games in Australia and England, including for the Brisbane Broncos and South Queensland Crushers.

The Wynnum Manly and Cannon Hill junior remained involved with Queensland league after his playing days and until recent times was a development manager for the Seagulls and Queensland Residents trainer.

Guyana has a population of less than one million and is situated on the northern border of Brazil and to the immediate east of Venezuela.

A document sighted by QRL Media has confirmed McKenna's mother Patricia (nee Craigen) was born in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown, while his father J was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The discovery came to light after McKenna's younger brother David played fullback in the GYG Latino Origin contest last weekend in Noosa, won 44-10 by New South Wales Latino.

The match was contested by players of South and Central American descent, hoping to earn a place in the composite Latin American team for the 2018 Emerging Nations World Championship.

It was only two days after the match that officials realised David was the younger brother of a former Origin legend, as he was not forthcoming with the information himself.

There is a 19-year age gap between the brothers.

The find will force rugby league scribes to reconsider elements of the sport's history.

Marcelo Montoya (Chilean father) of the Canterbury Bulldogs is often referred to as the first NRL player of South American descent, though that might have to be slightly revised to the first player of Latin American descent.

Although Guyana is geographically situated in Latin America, as a former colony of Netherlands and Great Britain it is not technically considered Latino in an ethnic sense.

It is the only South American country that qualifies for the Commonwealth Games.

David McKenna and his Queensland-based counterparts will find out Wednesday if they have been successful in earning a place in the Latin American Emerging Nations squad.

Other elite rugby league players with links to South and Central America include Cronulla's Daniel Vasquez (Chile), former Super League brothers Ade and Matt Gardner (Brazil), and French international Gadwin Springer (French Guiana).

Former Sunshine Coast Intrust Super Cup player Kevin McKenzie is also from Guyana.
Former Australian representative Richard Villasanti is of Polynesian heritage but was adopted as a child by Paraguayan parents.