By Brian Lowe, Date: 7/12/15
Canada opens its first ever campaign to get to the Rugby League World Cup when it takes on Jamaica in the Americas Region Qualifying series Tuesday night in DeLand, Florida.
It will be Game 2 of the Firehouse Subs series with the USA having already beaten the Reggae Warriors in the series opener last Friday night.
The Canadian story is unique. They have come a long way in a short space of time.
Rugby League came to a sudden halt in Canada in 2000 because, as recently elected Canada Rugby League Association president Paul O’Keefe puts it, ”You had Rugby League fans trying to run the game.
“Fans can’t run the game, you need business people with a business plan to do these sort of things.”
After ten years, the sport re-emerged in the Great White North in 2010 when the reborn Canadian Wolverines competed in the then Atlantic Cup, a precursor to what’s now the Colonial Cup.
Coincidentally, they played Jamaica in their first game back from their hiatus and in another coincidence it was in Jacksonville, Florida.
They lost that game, along with their next match against the US, but haven’t dropped a contest against the Jamaicans since. In fact, Canada has won the last four matches against the Reggae Warriors and are looking to make it five straight this week.
The Canadians have four heritage players on their RLWCQ roster. That in itself is not unusual as the other teams also have heritage players in their squads. What is different though is that Wolverines head coach Aaron Zimmerle is a Canadian-born Australian.
Zimmerle, whose family moved down under when he was a youngster, says it’s an honor to coach his native country’s national team, “It’s where my heritage meets my culture.”
He coaches the Tweed Heads Seagulls in the Intrust Super Cup in Queensland and in yet another coincidence, three of the four heritage players ply their trade in the same competition, so they are no strangers to him.
The domestic contingent come from British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario and Zimmerle says what excites him about them is their positive attitude, which he says was evident during their Colonial Cup success this past summer.
“If you are brave and fearless as a Rugby League player, you give yourself a fair chance of winning a game,” Zimmerle told RugbyLeaguePlanet.
“What’s inspiring to watch is the fearlessness that the Canadians have, particularly towards contact. Their aggressiveness on the carry the football is something that not a lot of people have.”
The coach believes selectors have put together a squad of class players who will add polish to the game plan by being able to finish off sets, execute things like kick chases and build pressure that will lead to easier points.
The Canadians are focused on making the trip to Florida count, meaning they believe they have a genuine chance of winning this Qualifying series and Jamaica is their first challenge.
Zimmerle says there are several potential game-winners on the Jamaican team who will need to be contained and he has singled out forwards Ross Peltier and Lamont Bryan in particular.
“We need to work as a pack,” said Zimmerle. “As a pack you can defeat individuals. As good as they are, if we’ve got six blokes who are consistently forming a line and working in unison at the tackle, it becomes really hard to be a player one out.”
Both Zimmerle and O’Keefe agree it’s a must-win game. A tie won’t be good enough and a loss will of course be a major setback.
Put simply, the Canadian camp is hell bent on winning and advancing to the 2017 RLWC.
“After 80 minutes we have to win,” concludes Zimmerle.
You can watch the game live at ginicam.com/rugbyleague
Tuesday, Dec 8, 7pm (ET)
Tuesday, Dec 8, 12 midnight (UK)
Wednesday, Dec 9, 11am (Sydney)
Wednesday, Dec 9, 10am (Brisbane)