It’s hard not to realize how silly the question is when the response is “well, why not?”
That’s how North Vancouver’s Andrea Burk replied to the question of “why rugby league?”
Burk, long-time star of the Canadian women’s rugby team — that’s rugby union, not rugby league — is set to play for Canada at her second World Cup of the year.
This time it’s the Rugby League World Cup, the global championship of the 13-a-side game, which is far less well-known in Canada.
Long a sport whose popularity was limited to its birthplace in the north of England, in Australia and pockets of France and New Zealand, a push to grow the game to new territories has been on for some time now.
In Canada, that’s most famously been represented by the Toronto Wolfpack, who dominated the third division of the English league this summer, their first in competition. The Wolfpack have pulled in thousands of diehard fans and built themselves a unique buzz in the Centre of the Universe.
The true-believers who rugby Canada Rugby League have been making connections in other parts of the country, building out local teams with a long-term goal of making the sport something that’s as well-known as rugby union, the fifteen-a-side (and seven-a-side) version of rugby that Canadians know better.
Hence, the first-ever women’s national squad, nicknamed the Ravens.
“This is something that we’ve never done before,” Burk says, admitting to the thrill of being a first-timer.
The Canadian team is drawn from across Canada, with a handful of others who’ve played for the national rugby union squad, but mostly filled by players who have been close to the international team, but not quite.
“The pleasant surprise for me was meeting some of the rugby athletes that Canada has who haven’t been able to crack the national squad for whatever reason,” she says. “There are a number of girls who have been top in their province or in USports.”
“It’s been really great to see the depth across Canada.”
Burk, who was a key centre for the national team at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup and again this summer for the 2017 WRWC, isn’t a stranger to rugby league: she played the hard-hitting game during a stint in New Zealand.
“It really helped my rugby union game,” she recalls. “What I learned from attacking in rugby league was how to manipulate the defence, to hit the defence at pace.”
“I’ve played with a lot of people who’ve played both or who have enjoyed watching both.”
Of course, adapting to the different flow of the game — there are only tackles in league, no rucks or mauls — has been a challenge, she admits.
“I still catch myself following somebody going in to contact looking to set up a ruck or a maul. It’s going to be about repetition, with a week on the ground and an exhibition match.”
The Ravens took on an Australian team, the Queensland Maori, on Friday. They lost 38-12, but the point was to get some game action before the World Cup kicks off Nov. 16 versus New Zealand in Sydney.
Queensland Maori score again as full time siren sounds to give them 38-12 win over Canada Ravens. Good game that we really needed and now Ravens can work on various areas of our game before playing New Zealand on Thursday. Thank you to Southport Tigers for hosting the game! pic.twitter.com/RlJhXIX0OY
— CanadaRavensRL (@CRLA_Ravens) November 10, 2017
The Canadians also play Papua New Guinea on Nov. 19 and Australia Nov. 22.
Four of the six teams will advance to the semifinals; a win over PNG would put Canada in the semis.
There’s no denying that drawing the best two teams in the world is “incredibly tough.”
But given Burk’s day job is all about motivation and leadership, it’s no surprise she’s taking a positive angle on it all.
“Just enjoy the experience,” she says. “I’m really excited when I think about this opportunity.”
And maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance to put the frustration of the Canadian rugby union experience from the summer — the Canadians went in as contenders but finished fifth — in Australia over the next few weeks.
“If anything that Women’s Rugby World Cup has taught me is to go play with no expectations. This is something that we’ve never done before.”
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Andrea Burk is a Women’s Rugby World Cup silver medalist (2014) for Canada, a motivational speaker and a rugby TV announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) during the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
A member of the National Senior Women’s Rugby Team since 2009, she was a 2015 Player of the Year finalist, named to the Women’s Rugby World Cup Dream Team, and was awarded Rugby Canada’s Gillian Florence award in 2014, which recognizes the player who best embodies the qualities of a Canadian national team player as voted on by her teammates.
Andrea's expertise is in building team cultures that thrive in highly competitive environments. She applies her proven strategies that make her a world-class athlete to motivate and inspire others to win in their own fields.
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