Port Alberni rugger wants rugby league revival for Vancouver Island

A new sport has quietly re-entered Canada’s sporting landscape, and interested participants on northern Vancouver Island will this year be included in its rebirth.

Dwayne Stern

Dwayne Stern

A new sport has quietly re-entered Canada’s sporting landscape, and interested participants on northern Vancouver Island will this year be included in its rebirth.

After a more than 10-year absence, the sport of rugby league re-emerged last year in Ontario with two teams taking to the pitch before expanding to a four-team competition this year.

Now, British Columbia Rugby League has hit the ground running, with plans for a five-team competition this summer.

“People get confused when I say I’m helping to organize rugby league,” says Port Alberni’s Dwayne Stern. “They think I’m talking about rugby, but I’m not.”

Stern explains that what most people in Canada know as rugby is actually rugby union. His sport is rugby league.

“In my opinion there is more action in rugby league as compared to union,” continues Stern, “and some of the rule differences in league, as compared to union, actually make the game easier to understand for Canadians.”

The most obvious rule difference is when a player is tackled, he said. In union, the tackled player must release the ball, while in league the tackled player retains the ball, returns to his feet and rolls the ball back, with his foot, to a teammate.

That segment of play is called the “play-the-ball” and is akin to the center snap in Canadian or American football.

Another rule difference between the two rugby codes is in the number of plays a team has to score.

“In union,” states Stern, “a team is given an unlimited number of attempts to score. While in league a team gets a “set-of-six” tackles to score from wherever they receive the ball on the field.

“Usually on the fifth or sixth tackle, if they haven’t scored they will kick the ball away. Once again, very similar to Canadian and American football and those sports’ three or four downs to try and gain 10 yards.”

The top two leagues in the world are the European Super League (ESL), based in England, France and Wales, and the National Rugby League (NRL), based in Australia and New Zealand.

“For my money the NRL is the premier competition in the world,” said Stern.

“Much the same way as the National Hockey League is the premier hockey league in the world,” says Stern.

“I really think that if rugby league is handled properly in North America, with the financial resources that are available in Canada and the United States, that a pro competition here could rival the NRL in 10 to 15 years.

“In my opinion the game is that exciting, and North Americans, once exposed, would really get behind the sport.”

But that is in the future. For now Stern and his cohorts at B. C. Rugby League are concerned about the game in B.C.

“I’m trying to field a men’s team for players who live on northern Vancouver Island,” says Stern.

“If individuals who are interested in playing live between Duncan and Campbell River, I’d like to hear from them. No experience is necessary, but if you’ve played football or rugby union, you’re well on your way to having the tools required to play rugby league.”

Stern’s team is Oystercatchers RL and will play their home games and practice in the Parksville/Qualicum area.

“Parksville is a logical choice for players from the North Island as it is a central location,” states Stern. “Our games will be played at Ballenas Secondary School on Saturdays or Sundays, while our practices, which are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, will be at Oceanside Middle School and Qualicum Beach Community Field respectively.”

Interested players can contact Stern by phone at 250-723-7473 or by e-mail at stern60@shaw.ca.

Other teams in the competition besides the Oystercatchers are the South Island Rabbitohs, representing the Victoria area, the Sea to Sky Eagles, based in Whistler, the South Surrey Dragons and the Valley Titans who will play in Langley.