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Canadian international brothers making rugby league mark in different hemispheres

Canada internationals making rugby league mark

Brothers Rhys and Ryley Jacks play together for Canada. But these days they are making their rugby league mark in different hemispheres with the Toronto Wolfpack and Melbourne Storm, respectively.

The Australian-born brothers, who qualify for Canada via a Toronto-born grandfather, both made their league debuts with their clubs last week.

The 27-year-old Rhys, who captains Canada, helped the Wolfpack pummel the London Skolars 76-0 in Kingstone Press League 1 play while 25-year-old Ryley made his first-grade debut for the Storm in a 12-6 season-opening victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs in Australia’s National Rugby League.

Ryley also started Melbourne’s 26-10 win over the New Zealand Warriors on Friday. Rhys and the Wolfpack face Whitehaven RLFC on Sunday in England’s northwest.

Toronto and Melbourne share high expectations but are in very different places.

The expansion Wolfpack, rugby league’s first transatlantic team, are starting their journey in England’s third tier and looking to eventually win promotion to the elite Super League. A fully professional side among semi-pro teams, they will likely leave a lot of bodies in their tracks this season.

The Storm are one of the glamour teams of the NRL. Formed in 1998, they have played in seven Grand Finals, winning four (1999, 2007, ’09 and ’12). Storm veterans Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk are among the sport’s biggest stars.

The Jacks brothers play the same position of halfback although Rhys can also play hooker. In rugby league, the halfback is a playmaker who leads the way through passing and kicking.

The brothers were born and raised in Brisbane, a rugby league hotbed.

Rhys (pronounced Reece) played for the Gold Coast Titans entry in the NRL’s under-20 league and then for the Souths Logan Magpies, a Brisbane Broncos feeder club in the second-tier semi-pro Queensland Cup.

Rhys left Australia for England in search for a pro rugby league contract, spending last year with the Sheffield Eagles in England’s second tier. His skills and status Canadian ties made him a natural target for Toronto.

“It’s been absolutely awesome. Very professional,” he said of the Wolfpack organization.

Ryley played for the Gold Coast reserve-grade team and then the Sunshine Coast Falcons, a feeder team for the Storm.

His first start for Melbourne came quicker than expected and did not disappoint.

“It was awesome to get my debut in the NRL,” said Ryley, who helped pay the bills as a carpenter before graduating to rugby league full time. “It was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t know if I was going to get my shot (in) Round 1. I thought maybe throughout the year I’d get a shot but to get it Round 1 was pretty special.” 

Players in the Australian reserve league have to include their international eligibility in their paperwork. Rhys put down Australia and Canada.

“I didn’t think anything would come of it,” he said. “My brother and I didn’t know there was a Canadian team.”

There is and, out of the blue, the brothers got a call from Canadian team officials. The two eventually flew to Florida to represent Canada’s squad, known as the Wolverines, in a World Cup qualifying tournament that included the U.S. and Jamaica.

“The best rugby trip I’ve ever been on,” said Rhys,

While the brothers faced each other once in Australia’s second-tier competition, they had never played on the same team until they pulled on a Canadian shirt. 

Both felt at home with their Canadian teammates.

“I think they’re definitely very similar to Australians — a lot of the traits and personalities and the way they like to play their sport is very similar to Australians,” said Rhys. “We fit in very well with the Canadian boys.”  

“The boys are really friendly and they work hard for their mates out in the field,” echoed Ryley. “And that’s definitely the same qualities as the boys we play with over here. We really enjoyed that experience and we’re definitely looking forward to doing it again at some stage.”

Rhys got to watch Ryley’s NRL debut against Canterbury and spoke to him after the game.

“He was on top of the world. He was absolutely pumped.”

Ryley only got to see some highlights of the Wolfpack season-opener. Rhys and the Toronto team are getting plenty of attention as is, however.

“It’s dominating rugby league press over here,” said Rhys. “Every second story’s about the Wolfpack and how good it is for rugby league. Say you meet someone for the first time, you tell them that you’re a rugby player and you tell them that you play for the Toronto Wolfpack, you think no one’s going to hear of it.

“But in the city (Leeds) that I’m in, everyone that I’ve talked to has heard of them. It’s definitely becoming a big deal over here.”

The Wolfpack make their home debit on May 6 against Oxford RLFC.

“I know they’re all very excited to get over to Toronto. That’s all anyone talks about at the moment,” said Rhys. 

He too is looking forward to it. Despite captaining Canada, he has yet to set foot in the country.

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press