31 Oct 2022
Graf eyes England upset as Brazil prepare for tournament bow
The Amazonas are ready for their first Rugby League World Cup and face hosts England on day one.
By Josh Graham
Multi-talented Maria Graf believes the depth of her stirring sporting backstory can help Brazil upset hosts England in their inaugural women’s Rugby League World Cup game on Tuesday.
Captain Graf cut her teeth in the nation’s obsession of football and Japanese martial art judo while she is also a rugby union referee, volleyball player and Brazilian Under-18 rugby league champion.
The Amazonas will make history as the first South American side to play in any Rugby League World Cup and Graf admitted she feels a mixture of excitement and nerves ahead of the first game of a mouth-watering double header at Headingley.
“The contact skills from judo are very helpful in rugby league,” said personal trainer Graf
“I think we have two players who are black belts but I’m just orange; it really helps with the tackling principles for the forwards.
“We can get some skills from the other sports that help improve our rugby league. Like kicking or handling skills when we play volleyball.
“I’ve played rugby since 2013 and never imagined this happening. I hope I can enjoy this amazing experience and I really want to inspire the next generation.
“We have a good team with good friendships off the field and this helps on the field. We are very happy together.
“We are really looking forward to hopefully seeing a big crowd because we are making history for Brazil and South America.
“I really want visibility, so hopefully we get some more sponsors and support in Brazil because rugby league is just starting there.
“When we get on the field and sing our anthem, it will be really special but after the kick-off it is just a game.”
Eyes on the prize!
Our women's captains have joined us in York alongside coaches, media and tournament stakeholders to officially launch the women's tournament.
Kick off next Tuesday can't come soon enough!#RLWC2021 pic.twitter.com/C6nw1RoTaI
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) October 28, 2022
Against the odds, Brazil – the lowest ranked side – have made it to this tournament despite battling strict lockdowns that forced the squad to keep fit in stairwells during the height of the pandemic.
Six of the side had not even seen a game of rugby league a year ago and just two, Graf and Tatiane Fernandes, had represented the country before they arrived in England.
A spirited display in a 12-4 warm-up defeat to France on Thursday has only increased the sense of optimism surrounding Paul Grundy’s side with the coach revealing his team have barely played in front of 100 people previously with over 16,000 expected in Leeds.
Grundy, who was drawn to the country after his son fell in love with his Brazilian exchange student, heaped praise on Graf, the Queenslander labelling her the easiest player he has ever coached.
However, Brazil’s coach is under no illusions as to the task at hand but insists the underdogs are coming to win although they will not be unduly disappointed if they do not prevail as the competition’s unknown entity.
He said: “The girls learn at an extremely rapid rate. The questions I get are amazing. I think the main thing is the girls come here and give everything they are capable of and I know they will.
“I think against England we will improve through the match; they are a bunch of girls that don’t say no.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets