Blake Stewart, the coach behind the BC Rugby League team the Coastal Cougars has been appointed the coach of Western Canada’s Rugby League team.
Stewart, who lives in Squamish, will train players from across the western Canadian provinces in preparation for a match in the U.S. This week, he contacted 30 prospective players for the team, and 20 of that group will be chosen to travel to California in December, where they'll play against the state team.
"Rugby league is a very new sport in California," Stewart told The Chief. "There are two teams. They are a lot of ex-college athletes, from what I understand."
Rugby league has two fewer players on the field, and is a more fast-paced game, Stewart said.
Stewart led the Coastal Cougars to win the 2019 regional championships. The team also played against the Alberta team several weeks ago, and Stewart was able to watch the players from both provinces to see who could make the cut for the western Canada team.
The training for the western Canadian team will take place in North Vancouver. Stewart and players from Squamish, Whistler and the Fraser Valley will commute down, and two players from Saskatoon will be sent training exercises and schedules. The first time the whole team will come together will be in California, Stewart said.
"That will be quite hard because it's representing such a big area, but it's very exciting because going down to the U.S. is quite a big thing for International Rugby League," he said. He's anticipating people from the International Rugby League federation will be tuning in to the live stream of the match.
The current national rugby league team for Canada, Stewart said, has a lot of players from Ontario.
"This is a stepping stone. You need to play for western Canada, and if you play well for western Canada and get shown, the Canadian coach will be watching," Stewart said. "You can be selected to play for Canada. We do actually have a few Canadian representatives on the team that will be coming away with us.
"It's quite a big commitment to play," Stewart said, because of the required travel and the players will pay their own way. He hopes sponsors will help cover the costs. (Those interested in sponsoring can contact Josh Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org )