It’s been a crazy summer for newly minted professional rugby player Quinn Ngawati. He just graduated high school, turned 18 and flew across the ocean to compete for — and subsequently snag — a coveted spot on the Toronto Wolfpack’s League One rugby team. The club is Canada’s first professional rugby team and the latest to join the English Rugby Football League (RFL).
While Ngawati was playing for the Under 17 Canadian rugby team, a coach mentioned the upcoming Wolfpack tryouts to him.
“We thought that I might as well just go and give it a shot, maybe get my name on the radar of a professional side,” he says, hoping that at least he’d get some pointers to improve his game.
“I never really thought [an offer to play] professional would come this soon.”
Ngawati took part in the Wolfpack tryouts in Vancouver before 18 hopefuls got invitations to a week-long camp in England. Out of the contenders, only three made the team. Ngawati was the only Canadian. His teammates have already nicknamed him “the Quinnadian.”
Ngawati’s father is from New Zealand where he played rugby and where the wildly popular sport prevails. Even as a young boy growing up in Victoria, B.C., Ngawati was drawn to the sport more than the typical Canadian sporting staples.
“Every Canadian kid goes through that period of enjoying hockey or enjoying football, but it’s [rugby] kind of in my blood,” says Ngawati.
“It comes pretty easy to me.”
He went to schools in New Zealand and B.C., competing in rowing, basketball, rugby and swimming at St. Michael’s University School in Victoria.
As the youngest member of the Wolfpack, Ngawati is humble enough to know there’s a long road ahead to develop his skills. But he has the drive.
“I was able to come into the environment and prove to the coaches that I was ready to play this year for those games that they needed me to,” he explains.
“But obviously I still have a lot of work to do.”
The Wolfpack is in Toronto for several weeks playing matches against teams who cross the Atlantic Ocean to compete.
The team’s home turf is Lamport Stadium on King Street West, and the team resides at George Brown College, where they also enjoy daily meals prepared by a chef, says Ngawati.
A fast-paced, seven-person version of rugby was introduced into the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last year, and Ngawati thinks that will help bring awareness to the sport in general in North America.
He says it’s a good option for kids to play, too.
With proper training to avoid injuries, he thinks more Canadian kids would enjoy the sport if they tried it.
When asked what he liked best about rugby, Ngawati hints at the tradition and history that has allowed the sport to thrive for more than a century.
“For me it’s the rugby culture,” he says.
“All across the globe rugby’s recognized, and the way that people act, I think it gives good structure for kids growing up. It obviously gives you an active and healthy lifestyle.”
You can purchase tickets to watch Ngawati and the Wolfpack take a bite out of the competition from their website.