Rugby League takes a big Canadian step forward

In the Toronto Wolfpack’s 62-10 victory over the University of Gloucestershire All Golds, young Quinn Ngawati (pronounced Now-r-tee), is the first Canadian born and raised player, to make his Rugby League debut. He didn’t score or impact the game in a significant way, but he certainly didn’t look out of place either. It was a positive sign for the rookie and the country to build on.

It should be noted that there are other players on the team that are listed as Canadian. Despite how fortunate and proud the country should be in Tom Dempsey and Rhys Jacks, there will always be someone who would put an asterisk by their name as they lived most, if not all their lives away from Canada.

Quinn Ngawati breaking through an All Golds tackle

That’s what makes the debut of the BC native so special. His performance on and off the field, will not only impact the Wolfpack, but hopefully have a positive influence on all of rugby in Canada not only for today, but for generations to come. It is one of those rare games where a player’s impact was more important than the teams.

“I thought he was outstanding,” coach Paul Rowley said about the just turned 18 year old. “I think the whole day today is about Quinn Ngawati.”

Five All Gold players tackling Ngawati

The young boy in a man’s body is quite mature for his age. He did well to control his emotions during the game, producing a nifty little dish that led to a Greg Worthington try; but he was also in full control after the game, calmly answering reporters questions about his performance and how he originally heard the news about joining the Wolfpack.

“My mom got a phone call and filtered through text messages [to me] in what I believe was physics class” Ngawati, the recent high school graduate said. “I got the message that I better get my bags packed.”

To put this wondrous story into perspective, that means just 2 days after graduating high school and 4 days after turning 18, the 6’ 4” Victoria native was on a plane to start his dream career for the very first professional Rugby League team in Canada.

“It gives something for everyone my age and younger to work for,“ Ngawati said. “Even just to have that opportunity, that there is a path that leads to you playing professional on your home soil, I think that is a massive draw for any young kids from Canada.”

QLT helping us to visualize the heights that Rugby League can have in Canada

As mentioned, getting to play 25 minutes for the Toronto Wolfpack was a big step in growing rugby league in Canada, but let’s not jump to far ahead as this is only one step on a long, arduous journey. The trail offers no guarantees and not only requires a skillset growth by Ngawati, but also financial growth and stability by the Wolfpack and Rugby League as well.

Ngawati certainly seems to have the poise and desire to be a standout player, but he isn’t one right now. The Wolfpack have the ability to be a top team in Super League, but they aren’t one right now. There have been a number of cities in North America that have already shown interest in getting their own rugby league team, but right now, there is only one. So yes, this is a journey that is far from over, but it is a journey that we have seen before in this city, so this is not completely unchartered territory.

The Toronto Raptors started back in 1995 but it really didn’t take off in popularity until Vince Carter and Canada’s own Steve Nash were at the top of their games. They both are greatly responsible for the number of kids that got into the sport and eventually that led to more and more Canadians in the NBA including former Raptor Cory Joseph, NBA Champion Tristan Thompson and first overall pick Andrew Wiggins. The game of basketball is at an all time high now in Canada but that was because of the inspiring play of those superstars approximately 15 years ago. Therefore if you add a legend like Fuifui Moimoi with a young, potential Canadian superstar in Ngawati, you now have the same type of seeds that hopefully in a decade or two will grow RL to fruition in Canada. Oh, did I mention that Ngawati and Nash are both from Victoria, BC?

Fuifui Moimoi can’t be stopped as he scores another Wolfpack try

So to all you Rugby League traditionalists, don’t get your knickers in a knot. One big step from one 18 year old Canadian is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the near 150 years of history that you have with the sport. But from the 6000+ fans on average for the Wolfpack and now with our very first player to call our own, we have sunk our teeth into League and we are gorging on its deliciousness. Canada still has a long, long way to go, but make no mistake, we’ve just taken a giant step.

Photos by Chris Papaioannou
By Dario Passarelli / @PapaDart

 

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