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Putting the game of Rugby League on display for other like-minded sports fans of Asian heritage is driving players from Sri Lanka, Japan, and Thailand, who do battle this weekend in a round of NSWRL Heritage Rugby League.

Kenji Ball is a member of the Japan Moonbears, who will be playing both a mixed League Tag game against Sri Lanka (1.30pm kick-off) and a regulation tackle game against Thailand (3pm) on Saturday 25 February at Cabramatta’s New Era Stadium.

“I grew up in western Sydney and Rugby League was everything,” Ball told

“I didn’t know too much about Asian football or Japanese rugby.

“Part of this for me is to help make Rugby League more available, more visible to guys of Asian heritage.

“Yes, it’s early days and still small numbers but I’m sure our participation will grow through games like this weekend.”

Thailand centre James Cairns knows many people think of Muay Thai (boxing), martial arts and soccer as better-suited for smaller-framed people from his country.

“A lot of our players have a parent born in Thailand,” Cairns said.

“My dad is Aussie and my mum is Thai and I’m 196cm and 95 kilos.

“We’ve got a few big boppers in our team and with our smaller guys they’ve got the heart and skill anyway.

“It’s a very skilful game and I don’t think many people realise that. We’re all playing for our teammates, our culture, our mums or dads, so all that draws us closer as a team.”

NSWRL started Heritage Rugby League in 2009. It’s a series of one-off games, weekend competitions for ethnic communities to celebrate both their culture and love of the game.

“Rugby League is a sport for all communities, cultures and groups,” Heritage Rugby League president Javed Hamidi said.

“We have many people growing up in Australia whose heritage might be elsewhere, but they want to be a part of a sport like Rugby League because it’s fast-paced and skilful.

“More and more communities, who aren’t traditionally linked to the game, now want to be a part of it.”

There are currently 25 countries affiliated with Heritage Rugby League with another half-dozen awaiting full affiliation.

Cambodia and Vietnam were part of NSWRL’s Harmony Nines multicultural weekend in October last year along with others from Asia, Europe, North and South America.

“One of the beauties of Heritage Rugby League is that many of these communities have a relationship with people in their mother country and then go back there to introduce or further grow the game,” Hamidi said.

Ball said the Japan Samurais - the national team newly-sanctioned by the IRL (International Rugby League) - played a friendly against El Salvador last October. Eleven members of the Australian-based Moonbears played in that game.

“Rugby League is still pretty small in Japan – rugby is massive now – but we’re trying to get more people involved and on board,” Ball said.

Cairns added: “The space is pretty tightknit between the Asian teams. We have great dialogue with the Philippines, Vietnamese teams etc., because we’re all working together trying to get others playing.”

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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