By Brian Lowe (Photo Credit: Colin Watson)
Canadian rugby league’s equivalent to an All-Star game, or perhaps even a State of Origin of sorts, is all set to make its debut on the sport’s calendar in 2020.
Canada Rugby League Association’s (CRLA) very first East versus West match will be played in Toronto in January.
Ontario Rugby League (ORL) president Ryan Murray says the East vs West game is based on Australia’s successful State or Origin concept.
“That is exactly what it is,” says Murray. “It all started when the West team head coach Blake Stewart challenged ORL by saying the Ontario Rugby League isn’t doing good enough compared to British Columbia.
“Led by men’s West captain Lawrence Ross and his elite players from BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, the East team is looking to field a men’s and women’s team strong enough to not only prove we are better than they perceive, but to leave Blake and Lawrence a lasting impression on our speed, strength, and tenacity.
“We have to say thank you to Bob Jowett (CRLA president), Josh Knight, John Cameron and the Toronto Wolfpack for their assistance with this event.”
The game is being billed as the ‘Thunderdome’ battle between Canada’s East and West.
Murray continues that it won’t be the only method of selecting national teams, but by putting together high-quality athletes on a stage with high pressure and higher expectations, it’s a great way to find Wolverines and Ravens prospects, as well as provincial level talent.
And he adds there’s a reason that it will be played in Toronto in the middle of winter.
“The West team was preparing for a tour but for some reason or another they asked us if we were up for the challenge. We accepted and began preparing for the ‘Thunderdome’,” says Murray.
He says they hope to attract some media attention for the spectacle.
“We are hoping for some attention and assistance from current players and family members via our social media outlets but with Sonny Bill Williams joining the Toronto Wolfpack and their jump to Super League, the entire world is looking at the future of rugby league in Toronto.
“It is a very exciting time for rugby league in Toronto and we are looking for sponsorship for this event to offset the cost of field rental and the match officials’ wages.”
The West team will be made up of players from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, while the East will consist largely, if not entirely, of players from Ontario as rugby league hasn’t yet fully extended to Quebec and the Maritime provinces.
The game is scheduled to be played at Lamport Stadium on January 11, 2020.