Canada Wolverines men's rugby league team searching for new head coach

TORONTO — Interested in coaching the Canadian men's rugby league team? The Canada Rugby League Association is taking applications.

And while the position is voluntary and part-time, it has already received more than 15 applications from around the world. With the deadline May 30, there is still time to add to that list.

The job is long on challenge and short on resources. The Canadian men, known as the Wolverines, are currently ranked 27th in the world — sandwiched between Spain and Nigeria.

The ranking is likely more due to inactivity than anything else. It's hard finding international opposition that doesn't require a lengthy plane ride. And Canada's rugby league pockets are not deep.

It doesn't help that Canada's closest rivals are the 18th-ranked Americans and 20th ranked Jamaicans. Jamaica's Reggae Warriors beat Canada 38-8 in November 2018 en route to winning the Americas Championship and qualifying for the 16-team Rugby League World Cup next year in England.

Canada finished third at the Americas Championship after beating Chile 62-12.

The Canadian job came open when Australian incumbent Ben Fleming's term came to a close, according to CRLA president Bob Jowett.

"We do have an option to extend (the term)," Jowett said. "In this case, we felt it was appropriate to have another look and see. Ben is still open to apply. To the best of my knowledge he hasn't."

Probably because he knows that being invited to apply for a job you already have is never a good sign.

Jowett says having a volunteer coach is not usual for countries like Canada, looking to climb the rugby league ladder.

As of Monday, Jowett said the nominations committee had received 16 applications including interest from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. "And I know for a fact there will be more," he added.

International coaching has its appeal, even when the perks are missing.

Toronto Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott, one of the most successful coaches in the history of England's Super League, was in charge of the U.S. program during his time with Leeds Rhinos.

Punching above their weight, the under-resourced Americans got past Canada and Jamaica in qualifying to make it to the 2017 World Cup, where they went 0-3-0.

"And what a committed set of men they were. It was incredible the amount of commitment they had. Humbling as well,'' McDermott told The Canadian Press in a May 2019 interview.

The Wolverine schedule includes the 2020 Americas Championship in November in Kingston, Jamaica, pending the global pandemic. The Americas 9's Championship is slated for May 2021 in Jacksonville, Fla., with the 2025 Rugby League World Cup Americas Qualifiers to follow in November 2022.

Fleming, who has Canadian ties, was appointed head coach in March 2017. He played the game around the world — including twice for the Wolverines himself — before becoming an assistant coach with Canada in 2016.

He was in charge of Canada's September tour of Serbia, with players helping pay for the trip.

The new coach will have to find talent and secure its use for Canada.

Fleming drew on players from talent from Canada, Australia, England and New Zealand for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Players unavailable at the time included Victoria's Quinn Ngawati, the first Canadian-born player to play professional rugby league, and Ryley Jacks (Gold Coast Titans, Melbourne Storm) and Jaeman Salmon (Parramatta Eels), who both have experience in Australia's elite NRL.

Riley's brother Rhys Jacks played for the Toronto Wolfpack in 2017. Australian-born and -bred, the Jacks qualify to represent Canada because their grandfather was born in Toronto.

The arrival of the Wolfpack — and the 2021 arrival of the Ottawa Aces — helped shine a light on rugby league in Canada. Eric Perez, who helped found both teams, is a former president of the Canada Rugby League Association.

Still, while there are amateur leagues in Alberta, B.C., and Ontario, the 13-player rugby code remains in its infancy here. Jowett expects the sport to get more attention when the NRL resumes play Down Under later this week, offering TV some welcome live sports content.

The Canadian women are coached by Australian Mike Castle, whose national team job is also part-time and voluntary. Ranked fifth in the world, the Canada Ravens are headed to their second World Cup and will play in a pool with No. 3 England, No. 4 Papua New Guinea and No. 13 Brazil next year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020.

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