By Brian Lowe, (Photo: Boris Terzic)
Canada’s inaugural East-West select side games continue to garner a positive response with suggestions that they have laid the groundwork for an ongoing annual series.
Played at the weekend under a dome at Lamport Stadium in Toronto, home of the RFL’s Wolfpack, men’s and women’s representative teams from Canada’s eastern and western provinces faced off in the very first Canadian version of an All-Star format.
Players from British Columbia and Alberta made up the West teams, while the East’s teams were predominantly Ontario-based players as rugby league has yet to establish a foothold in Quebec and the maritime provinces.
The East won the men’s game 44-14, while the West was victorious 24-18 in the women’s match.
East women’s captain MacKenzie Fane says the women opened the event and really set the tone for the rest of the day.
“West came out of the gates strong and in the first 20 minutes it looked like they would take the game quite easily against the East team who got off to a shaky start,” Fane tells RugbyLeaguePlanet.
“I am so proud of the East women who pulled together and did not let a challenging start prevent them from playing their game. After a rough first 20 minutes, the East women were able to battle their way back into the game.
“In the second half, the strong West squad was showing fatigue and making mistakes, but at the end of the day the efforts of the East simply were not enough, and we lost by 6 points. For a squad made up of mainly inexperienced players, a new coaching staff and new team offensive systems and plays, I could not be more proud of the way my teammates performed.”
Fane, who is also captain of Canada’s women’s national team the Ravens, says there are work-ons from the weekend, but for a team that had limited training sessions due to holidays and scrambling to secure dome time, and players who had not played with each other before the game, they came together and remained positive and constructive throughout the game.
She says their heart and resiliency are things that cannot be coached. The rest will come with time and the East looks forward to a rematch with the West in the near future.
Fane, vice-president of Ontario Rugby League (ORL), says the men’s game was very physical.
“The rivalry between the East and West men has been building for years and that slow, constant build was seen on the pitch through the powerful running lines and bruising hits from both sides,” she continues.
“At the end of the day, East’s offense just could not be stopped, despite admirable efforts from the West. The East also provided suffocating defensive pressure and reacted quickly on turnovers, capitalizing on any West weaknesses.
“Overall, the inaugural East vs West event was a successful first step towards an annual series. The talent that all four teams brought to the pitch was a sight to behold, and it makes me excited for upcoming provincial and national matches.
“Looking ahead to the future, I see an event that expands to include more provinces as rugby league continues to expand and grow in Canada.”
“It wasn’t the result we were looking for, but the ladies worked hard, and I am proud of them,” said Nick Hails, East women’s head coach.
“The future looks bright with our talent freshly motivated and our coaches continuously identifying ways to grow and develop the players here in Ontario and across the country,” added Petra Woods, East women’s player.
And perhaps the final word should go to ORL president Ryan Murray given that he stuck his neck out beforehand by flat out guaranteeing that the East would win the men’s game, or he’d quit his position on the board.
“Fair dinkum, let the record show and clarify any illusions about the talent coming from the Ontario Rugby League and our Eastern program,” he said. “We wanted these games to happen so we could humble the Western critics like Blake Stewart, prove our rightful place, and hopefully unify for the benefit of the sport in Canada.”
If you missed the games and would like to watch them, or maybe you’d like to see them again, you can do so at the ORL’s YouTube page here