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9s Rugby League: It's About Passion

Photos By: Greg Rigby

Written By: Andrea Burk

It’s about passion 

“A passion for rugby, for the culture, for teammates and for an international sport experience,” is what the newcomer and NSWT International player from Quebec, Justine Pelletier, has to say about the opportunity she has to represent Canada at the Commonwealth 9s Championship in Brisbane, Australia on February 23 and 24, 2018.

Rugby League is the new kid on the block when it comes to rugby in Canada. Rugby Union has been around for well over 125 years on this side of the pond, with 15s having higher participation numbers and rugby 7s being the faster growing version since 2016, especially with Canada bringing home a bronze medal at the Olympics and the inaugural Canada Sevens being a smashing hit in Vancouver.

Even proper touch rugby leagues have found their way into some cities for those who love the game but can’t bear the contact any longer; or perhaps, for those who see the beauty in the manipulation of space through footwork, evasive running, and handling (NB: these diehards might also want to put a team into the 2019 Touch World Cup and put Canada on the map of World Touch).

The lesser known version of rugby in Canada is Rugby League, even though the Toronto Wolfpack RLFC, Canada’s first professional rugby team, has certainly been making impressions with sellout crowds at Lamport Stadium and a 2017 RFL League 1 Championship under their belt.

Photo Courtesy: Greg Rigby 

Rugby League has all the passing and tackling skills as union. However, it is played 13 a-side with varied or no set piece as in Rugby Union. The 9s version is to League as 7s is to Union. 9s League is fewer people, more space, and 9-minute halves, with tournaments being played over a two day period.

For people who are unfamiliar with League, what stands out the most is the numbers at the point of contact. For those who are familiar with the game, what stands out the most is the running lines and layered attack to break open a coordinated defence.

Rugby League has given an opportunity for Canadian rugby talent to represent their country on a new world stage. A goal, which for some, has been unattainable in Union due to injuries, timing, travel, financial resources, family, work, selections, de-selections, and so on. For the athletes representing Canada at the Commonwealth 9s Championships, and for some at the Rugby League World Cup in 2017, league means something different for each athlete.

For some, representing Canada in a sport they love has been a dream since they started playing. For others, League has offered competitive opportunities at a time where, outside of British Columbia, there is no other competition. It is an opportunity to learn a new skill and to try something new. It is a second chance. An opportunity to see the world and to be immersed in a different culture. To make lasting memories.

League has even breathed back life into and rekindled a love of the game for others which was somehow lost along the way. And then there are the athletes who say rugby league has helped them find themselves again.

While the reasons for each athlete is different, it's quite clear that the love of rugby is pervasive, and for these athletes it doesn’t matter what shape or law book the game follows – they just want to play!

At the end of the day, World Cup representative Maira Acevedo says, “rugby is rugby, the game itself is bigger than anybody.” And that is something we can all relate to.

Rugby, no matter what style, literally gives people life, a place of belonging and a sense of purpose. Involvement in this sport has saved lives, ended abusive relationships, healed heartache and loss, conquered addictions, battled mental illness, provided personal freedom, and has given people their life back, and opened doors to the future.

Photo Courtesy: Greg Rigby

So what is right about rugby in Canada is rugby itself, regardless of how its consumed. As a Union player, a touch player, a League player, 7s, 15s, 13s, 9s, at the club or international level, as a coach, an enthusiastic parent, volunteer or flat-out fan, it doesn’t matter.

Rugby is good, and it runs deep in the veins of Canada’s people.

Photo Courtesy: Greg Rigby

Ravens Commonwealth 9s Roster

Maira Acevedo – Surrey, BC (Bayside RFC)
Gillian Boag – Vancouver, BC (Capilano RFC)
Andrea Burk – North Vancouver, BC (Capilano RFC)
Christina Burnham – Vancouver, BC (Capilano RFC)
MacKenzie Fane – Holland Landing, ON (Aurora Barbarians RFC)
Ilanna Fittes – Rimbey, AB (Leprechaun Tigers)
Janai Haupapa – Summerland, BC (Calgary Rams Rugby Club)
Kathleen Keller – Quebec City, QC (Club de rugby de Quebec)
Sabrina McDaid – Scarborough, ON (Toronto Saracens)
Fedelia Omoghan – Scarborough, ON (Toronto Saracens)
Megan Pakulis – Toronto, ON (Toronto Saracens)
Justine Pelletier – Rivière du Loup, QC (Club de rugby de Quebec)
Stevi Schnoor – Coquitlam, BC (United RFC)
Natalie Tam – Toronto, ON (Toronto Saracens)
Tiera Thomas-Reynolds – Scarborough, ON (Toronto Saracens)
Ravens Commonwealth 9s Staff
Mike Castle (Head Coach)
Ben Hickey (Asst Coach)
Hayden Fisher (Asst Coach, S&C)
Petra Woods (Manager)
Andy Ireland(Equipment Manager)
Mel Tri (Therapist)