News | Friday, 2nd March 2018

Aspiring rugby league talent nurtured by new Toronto Wolfpack player development system

Young athletes from UK and Canada get chance to compete for University side

Representatives from Manchester Metropolitan University and Toronto Wolfpack pose with a rugby ball in front of the MMU Sport logo
Manchester Metropolitan University and Toronto Wolfpack have expanded their partnership with a new player development pathway

Pioneering rugby league club Toronto Wolfpack - whose UK base is Manchester Metropolitan University's Platt Lane Sports Complex - will set up a player development project with the University to nuture young athletes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Not only will the new 'player development pathway' seek to engage schools, colleges and universities to foster the talents of aspiring rugby players in both Canada and the UK but the Wolfpack will take over the coaching of Manchester Metropolitan University’s rugby league side this year and for the coming seasons.

The exciting development marks the expansion of the flourishing partnership formed in 2017 between the the University and the club, which plays in the Betfred Championship, the second tier of the British professional rugby league competition, following promotion from the division below in its debut season.

As the world’s first transatlantic sports franchise, Toronto Wolfpack play blocks of back-to-back away league matches during extended stays on British soil as part of a unique fixture arrangement to minimise disruption and travel costs for them and opponents.

Toronto Wolfpack use Platt Lane Sports Complex as their UK base
Toronto Wolfpack use Platt Lane Sports Complex as their UK base

Funnelling young talent

Toronto Wolfpack's Director of Rugby Brian Noble said: “The plan is to funnel our young rugby talent from Canada and the UK into the Manchester Met University team.

"This system mirrors the North American system whereby promising young athletes are enrolled onto higher education programmes, which promote their playing and academic development.”

The structure will use exchange programs to allow Canadians to train with, and compete for the University team.

Advanced discussions are already taking place between Manchester Metropolitan and universities in Toronto to facilitate this.

Good players can accelerate through

Toronto Wolfpack’s Chris O’Connor, who will coach the University side, said "A benefit of this system is that players can be brought into the system whenever they are ready.

"This will allow good young players to be accelerated through, while players who develop that bit later will be able to remain competing outside of open age competition.

“We expect the University team to naturally evolve as a mix of existing students and those brought in through our channels.

"Thanks to this mix, and some extra coaching support, we hope to be competing at the top of the British University Rugby League system by 2020." 

Paul Rowley, Head Coach of Toronto Wolfpack, with Jérôme Read, Performance Sport Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University

Strides on and off the field

Further details around the Wolfpack’s development pathway will be released over the coming months, including separate plans for ages 6-11, 11-16 and 16-18 year olds.

These will be mirrored in Canada and the UK with Wolfpack first team players taking an active role in coaching across the pathway on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jérôme Read, Performance Sport Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: "Toronto Wolfpack have not only thoroughly immersed themselves in utilising our world class facilities but also in working with MMU Sport to identify any other opportunities for their players, our students, research and staff.

"Our commitment to ensuring that our sporting partners are able to integrate fully into what Manchester Met has to offer is central to our quest for partners such as the Wolfpack.

"The waves they are making on the field of play are reflected in the strides they are making with the university off the field as well."

Growing the game

Toronto Wolfpack's General Manager – Commercial, Scott Lidbury, added: "We have a responsibility to use our status as the first professional rugby club in North America to grow the game wherever possible.

"The relationship with Manchester Metropolitan University will allow us to show talented high school and University athletes in Canada a clear route into the professional game.

“In Canada we need to ensure we are working with all ages and abilities to grow our game. Our key focus this summer in Toronto will be on inspiring children to enjoy the benefits of rugby participation and encouraging more adults into the game."

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