An American Rugby player in Canada in Britain
Team USA Rugby star Ryan Burroughs tells us about playing for the Toronto Wolfpack, the world's first Transatlantic professional sports team - currently competing in the English Rugby League Championship.
USA Rugby star Ryan Burroughs has been there and done it all - from High School Football to the US Armed forces, from Rugby Union to Rugby League, from playing in Australia to playing in Canada, and now he's part of the Toronto Wolfpack - the first Transatlantic team to play in the English Rugby League. We chatted to him about the upcoming season and the unique challenges of being a US Rugby player for a Canadian Team which plays in the UK.
Toronto Wolfpack are the first Transatlantic team to play in the English Rugby Football League - as an American, how did you get involved in the project?
Once I was told there was going to be a Pro Rugby League team in Toronto I immediately fell in love with the idea. I had some interest from other clubs but nothing seemed concrete. I had just played my first true year of rugby league in Australia with the Wentworthville Magpies, and a friend of mine (Mark Offerdahl) got me in contact with an agent that he had and sent my highlight tape to the coaching staff and they decided to take a chance on me. I felt like a kid on Christmas when I was told they were offering me a full time contract, i'll be forever grateful because they took a chance on me and its been nothing less than spectacular.
With a background in high school American football, and having served in the US Army, you played Rugby Union for a short while, then Rugby League. What drew you to them?
I’ve always played sports since I was a kid. My two older brothers played and I wanted to be like them so I played, they brought out my competitiveness and since I started playing American Football it made me want to compete in other sports like wrestling, track and field. But the contact and big plays in American Football and Rugby League and Union are very similar to me. The learning curve for Rugby League is actually way more complex than people realize, it will take a few years for me to reach my full potential in the sport, but that’s what I’m here to do and that’s what I’m working towards is to be the best player I can be.
The Wolfpack made a huge impact in their first season in 2017, being crowned League 1 champions and being promoted to the Rugby Football League Championship. You even scored the team's first try! How did it feel to be so successful, so soon into the team's tenure in the UK league?
It was an amazing feeling to win the League last year, but we had planned to win it and be promoted so we trained and prepared for each game week in and week out like it was our last. We wanted to make a statement to the rest of the League that we weren’t here to make friends, and nothing was going to get in our way to accomplish our goal.
You play some home games in the UK, and some back in Toronto at the Lamport Stadium. How easy is it to compete as a Transatlantic athlete?
I would say its anything but easy. Preparation for games doesn’t change and when you throw in traveling to a country across an ocean it's never easy, but we embraced it and will continue to do so.
What are the logistics of playing for a North American team in the UK – where do you base yourself during the different parts of the season?
All of pre-season and the games we play here in the UK we all have homes here. We stay here for the majority of our time but when we go to Toronto for our block of games we are accommodated with apartments with everything we need to have a home away from home.
When you're playing in the UK, do you get much time to relax and enjoy the experience? Do you visit the sights etc?
Yeah we have plenty of free time, when training is done each day around 2-3 pm that gives you the rest of the day to be able to go out and explore, as well as doing some exploring on our days off.
When playing in the UK and in Canada, is there anything you miss about the USA?
I don’t really get homesick. Of course I miss my friends and family but they know I’m out here living a dream and with social media and ways of communication nowadays it’s not hard to be away from home.
Toronto Wolfpack has players from Ireland, Australia, England, New Zealand and America - does the team retain a strong sense of Canadian identity despite having a strong international flavor?
Yes most definitely. The boys and I have all embraced the Canadian ways and love it over there. Each game the boys know they’re not only representing their country of origin but Canada as well, and we wear that with pride.
You've represented the American national Rugby League team, the US Hawks. How does representing your nation feel, and does your Transatlantic schedule for the Wolfpack have an impact on your National team career?
It’s always an honor to wear your country's colors and I’m extremely blessed every time I wear The Red, White and Blue. My national team career hasn’t been affected at all. The Wolfpack allowed me to represent the USA Hawks at the 2017 RLWC and were going to let me play for the US in a Colonial Cup game last season that clashed with the same day as a Wolfpack game, and they gave me the option to play in whichever one I wanted, so they’re extremely considerate when it comes to things of that sort.
Does it have any impact on your Wolfpack teammates when you score for the USA Hawks against Canada Wolverines?
Well any chance last year when Rhys Jacks and Tom Dempsey were here we always had friendly banter with that, and Quinn and I haven’t played against one another yet but I always give him a little reminder about who won last.
What do you hope for from the coming season for Toronto Wolfpack?
As a team our goal is “Super League” - we have some serious talent on this roster and with no one having an ego and the positive chemistry we all have it can definitely be achieved. As a player/individual I want to develop twice as much as I did last year, it's going to take extra effort on my part but I want to prove to myself that I can. I suffered an unfortunate injury at the World Cup but I refuse to let that keep me down or use it as an excuse not to do my job and get better.
The Toronto Wolfpack are in the UK for fixtures until May 2018, before returning to Canada for most of their remaining fixtures of the season. Keep an eye on their match at the New River Stadium in London, against Halifax RFLC on April 28th - the stadium is easy to reach from central London, so a great chance to wave the Maple Leaf in support of North America's first Transatlantic Rugby League team. Find our more details about tickets and schedules at the Toronto Wolfpack website: https://www.torontowolfpack.com/schedule/. You can also follow the Wolfpack's progress on Premier Sports - check out http://www.premiersports.com/rugby-league/rugby-league-championship/.