Barcelona’s style a daily inspiration for Hong Kong rugby league captain Ringo Lung

The 26-year-old says the code is content with its standing in the city ahead of second ever test match against Japan on Saturday

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 12:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 10:51pm

Hong Kong rugby league captain Ringo Lung Chao-nam is a realist but also a dreamer and when he walks into work at Barcelona FC, he can’t help but be inspired.

As part of the sponsorship team at Barcelona’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong, Lung is in the presence of historic club memorabilia every day and he thrives on the magic of the Catalan giants.

“Even as a kid I remember watching Barcelona and for me it was always about the way they played, the style of play was a big draw,” he says.

“What I enjoy about rugby league is the type of rugby that is played compared to union. In union you have lots of scrums, mauls and line-outs – lots of murky areas – but for me league is quite a physical, direct and very entertaining sport. Ultimately, sport for a player should be about fun and for fans it should be about entertainment.

“There’s less of a direct link between Barcelona and Hong Kong rugby league, but in terms of what I look for in sport, both rugby league in Hong Kong and Barcelona bring entertainment and enjoying yourself.”

And just as the city’s rugby league scene pales to a club like Barcelona, Lung is well aware of his sport’s standing in Hong Kong.

After starting in 2015, the code is growing and Hong Kong will play their second test match against Japan in Tokyo this Saturday, but those steering the ship are more than comfortable in their role as little brother.

“It’s pretty crazy and its very surreal [to be playing test matches so soon after the code’s inception in Hong Kong],” the 26-year-old says. “But we fully understand that in Hong Kong union is the main rugby sport and we have had to work with the Hong Kong Rugby Union.

“The union have been very supportive of what we are doing and the Premiership clubs as well. We recognise that in Hong Kong the resources aren’t large enough for us to run our own thing, so all our players are also union players and in terms of infrastructure, we get pitches mainly in summer in the union off-season.”

After playing union at school in England, Lung had a break during university before stumbling upon league on moving to Hong Kong in 2016.

Lung, who also plays union for Valley in national league one, was named the captain of Hong Kong’s league side ahead of their first ever test last November.

“I arrived in Hong Kong in April and the rugby season had just finished and I was looking for something to do. I found out there was a league tournament going on, which was the second edition of the HKRL Nines,” he says.

“It’s pretty special [to be captain], my family are very proud Hongkongers. Even though I grew up in the UK, they made sure I was very aware of my heritage, language and identity. I’m absolutely delighted, its beyond my wildest dreams.”

After losing 24-22 to Japan last time out, Lung says Hong Kong will field a stronger squad this Saturday on the back of growing interest as players wake up to the fact they can win an international cap.

“In the past what we saw was a lot of low-grade union players coming through and we also have a lot of Cantonese players, but the new thing this year, and we saw it especially in the Nines, is that we have had quite a few Hong Kong Premiership and Premiership A [union] players who are starting to show a bit of interest,” Lung said.

“The trials we had this year compared to last year were just night and day in terms of numbers and quality. We have had a far bigger pool to select from.”

Hong Kong’s first official rugby league test match proves code is here to stay despite the doubters in ‘union hotbed’

The HKRL Nines in late May were also an indication of the increasing stature of the code here, with Tonga sending their national development squad and taking out the tournament.

Hong Kong are also qualified for the Emerging Nations World Championship in Australia in November and the player pool in the four-team domestic league – which is running now – is up around 100.

This is likely to be the last test match before the World Championship – players will use the domestic league and the union season as preparation – and Lung feels the team is as prepared as possible.

“The quality of the players that we have managed to bring in has taken us a step up and the big one is just having the experience of the first game done and dusted,” he says.

“Going into the first one was a real unknown and in hindsight a lot of us were quite nervous and probably the occasion got to us a little bit.”

And while there have been some among the union community quick to sneer about the ease of winning a league cap, Lung remains as realistic as ever when brushing off the naysayers.

“We don’t have the best rugby players in Hong Kong playing for us, but we’re on a journey and we’re the players that are playing now, so we’re really excited,” he said.

Hong Kong squad:

Ghislain Baleyte, Alvin Chan, Jason Fairleigh, Toby Lei, Richard Lindsay, Ringo Lung, Craig McMurrich, Benoit Mouclier, Allan Newsome, Jack Nielsen, Ben Ryan, Alex Schvetz, Gus Spence, Hogan Toomalatai, Tommy Wong, Udo Wong, Jason Yip.