The Rise of the Phoenix: Canadian Rugby League

By Daniel Andruczyk (as for Rugby League Review)

While in North America covering the USA games for Rugby League Review, I was able to travel to Toronto Canada and catch up with Jamie Lester, technical Director for the CRL. It was an interesting insight into the way things were run in Canada, from its surprise beginning to where it’s heading in the future.

The 2011 Season

First I asked about this year and the domestic competition and preparations for this year’s internationals. One of the big changes was that the domestic competition expanded from two to four teams with St Catherine renaming themselves Niagra to reflect the player demographic much better. The Toronto Local Derby now is Toronto City and Scarborough with a team in the York Region, North of Toronto, makes up the fourth.

However the big news to recently happen is the formation of a 5 team in the West in British Columbia set up by an ex-Aussie Paul O’Keefe and Brit Martin lanfer. Asked about this Jamie said “Originally there was a goal for two teams but the response has been such that 5 teams were formed”.

But right now the Canadians are preparing for the International season. A 30 man squad has been selected to play Jamaica on the 31st of July as part of the Toronto Caribbean Week Celebrations. When asked about this Jamie said “Yeah, so Eric and Corey have done a great job getting Rugby League recognised as the official sport of the Festival.” He went on to say that “The game against Jamaica will be part of the festival. The festival is the biggest street festival in North America with over a million visitors.”

Other exciting news is that Canadian Rugby League now has the sport shown on the TV network Setanta and they also have their own Rugby League show where the highlights from the English Super League and Challenge Cup are shown and explained as well as advertising the CRL.

Interesting Beginnings

I asked Jamie about how Canada Rugby League Started. Of course years ago Canada played in the emerging nations world cup and then about 2002 just disappeared.

“I was on Rugby League Planet one day and saw a post from someone wanting to play league in Canada” Jamie said. He goes on “So I got in contact and things went on from there. I a lot was done to get things legal and legitimate and a four year plan had to be submitted to Tas Baitieri at the RLIF. But that got us the support we needed to grow.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing and Jamie found that after the initial training session with 14 people numbers waned a bit where only 4-8 players would show up. “I heard about the War on the shore and so we decided to go to that and have our first hit out. We ended up getting enough players (14) to train and be dedicated to going to the War on the shore.”


Jamie Lester (left) and Daniel Andruczyk (right) in Toronto discussing about Canadian Rugby League

The Future

Asking about the future of Canadian Rugby League. In the short term “We want to consolidate what we have at the moment. The four team competition we want to have so that all teams play each other twice, home and away”.

Obviously there are the internationals this year, Jamaica, two matches in the Colonial Cup against the USA Tomahawks and also against the South African Rhinos which will be a warm up match for the Rhinos and their World Cup Qualification campaign.

Future selections for the national teams will come from a ‘East versus West’ Origin style match which will pit the best players from the Toronto area against British Columbia. This will become the selection criteria for the National Squad called the Wolverines. A 9s tournament is also being considered as a way to get the season started.

Of course the end goal is the 2017 World Cup, to have Canada once again involved in that tournament. However one issue that seems to always pop up in North America is that concerning juniors. I asked Jamie about this and there is an effort to introduce the sport at schools through touch Rugby League. This should help develop the sport and make the kids aware of the sport when they leave.

Overall things are looking up in Canada, it’s a sport on the rise once more and has some good people behind it. I’ll be up for the Jamaican game in July which should be a great spectacle.


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