Brazil’s Amazonas hungry for more after “dream” debut at World Cup

Drew Darbyshire
Maria Graf Brazil Amazonas SWpix

Brazil's Maria Graf signs autographs for fans after her match against Canada | Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

Brazil lit up the 2021 World Cup with their fabulous colour and samba dances, but captain Maria Graf says this is just the beginning for the Amazonas.

Rugby league is still very much in its infancy in Brazil, with less than 500 men and women playing the game in total.

The women’s team made their first-ever appearance at a Rugby League World Cup last autumn, with the entire side being born and raised in South America.

The Amazonas lost all three of their group games but the end result is about much more than on-field performance, according to captain Maria Graf. It’s about inspiring the next generation in Brazil to pick up a rugby ball.

Graf, a former football and volleyball player who is also a rugby union referee, reflected fondly on their debut World Cup.

It was amazing, really a dream,” Graf told Love Rugby League. “The organisation and grandeur of the tournament was impeccable.

“Meeting wonderful people, learning a lot about rugby league, receiving so much affection. In fact, I miss it already.

“Talking about on the field, we are in our first steps, a lot of learning. Sometimes we win, sometimes we learn. I always emphasised to the girls: let’s have fun playing rugby, the rest follows.

“Stepping onto the field with those flames at your side, the huge crowd screaming, the national anthem playing, everything was a dream come true. I was smiling the whole time. The affection from England fans and players was really special.”

Maria Graf came out of retirement for the World Cup

Maria Graf Brazil Amazonas World Cup SWpix
Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

Graf only came across rugby league five years ago. She was invited by the head coach to play in a game against Argentina for the South America Championship.

“The coach at the time called me and asked if I wanted to play, but I didn’t even know rugby league or the rules,” she recalled.” But it was fun actually.

“The following year I participated in a national team training. In 2021, I played the National Championship for fun because I had already been retired since 2019.

“With the postponement of the World Cup, I had already given up, last year I didn’t play the national one, but Brazil’s coach convinced me to go back to training with the national team and so I had the best experience of my life.”

What next for the Amazonas?

Brazil Amazonas World Cup Maria Graf PA
Photo: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire/PA Images

There are a couple of teams in Brazil’s domestic National Championship competition – Melina, Maringa Hawks, Vitoria Rhinos and Urutau.

The Santa Catarina-born half-back insists there is so much potential for Brazil to grow in the men’s and women’s game.

“We have a lot of human potential to work with,” said Graf, who is a personal trainer and the manager of her club Desterro Rugby (Union).

“This participation in the World Cup I hope will cause greater publicity and support. We have young girls who are excellent players and our next generation.

I hope that we will have more financial support and better structures for training.

“I believe we will have more international friendly matches as well. 2025 seems far away, but the work has already begun, I’m looking forward to it.”

Brazil are 10th in the women’s International Rugby League world rankings following last year’s World Cup. The men’s team are currently 22nd from 51 of the rugby league playing nations.

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