Whistler Wolves v Pt Grey

Photo Credit: Pique Newsmagazine

As spring starts to wind down ahead of the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere, domestic rugby league competitions are getting ready to kick off the 2024 season, and one of them is in the western Canadian province of British Columbia.

There are both men’s and women’s divisions within the Rugby League British Columbia (RLBC) structure. There will be five teams in the men’s division, with Point Grey Thunder as the defending champions. Their title win last season capped off a three-peat, which began in 2021, something that had not been done before in the competition, which has been around since 2011.

“It’s a great story, the Point Grey Thunder,” Rugby League BC president Blake Stewart tells Rugby League Planet. “They started four years ago, and they made the Grand Final in their first ever year.

“It’s a program set up by Didier Banse. He’s a very well qualified coach. He’s actually head coach at the University of British Columbia as a rugby union coach, but his background is rugby league. He set it up to get more people exposed to the sport and since they’ve been in it, they’ve been a force, that’s for sure.”

Stewart says even though most of the Point Grey Thunder players had not previously played rugby league, several have represented Canada West and more recently played for the Canada Wolverines when they faced the USA Hawks in the tied game in Las Vegas in March.

He says as far as attracting players and supporters to the RLBC competition is concerned, it can be a struggle at times as rugby union has a longer history and a strong presence in the province.

“I would say it depends on where your club is based and what relationship you have with rugby union clubs around you,” Stewart continues.

“For my instance with the (Whistler) Wolves, we have a very good relationship with the local rugby union club. By no means are we affiliated or anything like that, but we do see a lot of their players interested in playing because it improves their skills, and their club can see the benefits of playing rugby league because they can bring the skills that they learned over to rugby union.

“It’s challenging, but I think if each team can get into their community and reach out to the rugby union clubs, it can grow. And it does grow because I’m seeing it with a couple of the clubs that we already have.”

There is an annual Canada East versus Canada West game, which is the equivalent to an All-Stars match, that is used as the final trial match for selection to the national team and in past years, BC has played Alberta with players being picked for the West from that game.

However, Stewart says since the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, that matchup hasn’t happened.

“Unfortunately, there just hasn’t been a want for the men’s side of Alberta to start again,” he says. “Now the women’s is still going. BC versus Alberta happens, and they do a provincial championship with Ontario.

“The men’s side of things has definitely fallen away a little bit. It’s something that I would love to bring back, but there would need to be a want from somebody over in Alberta to try to kickstart that again.”

Stewart says as a consequence of Alberta not fielding a team at the moment, this year’s East versus West game will be replaced by an interprovincial match between BC and Ontario.

From the British Columbia club competition standpoint, he says he thinks 2024 will be a big year for all the teams.

“Pretty much since I’ve been involved fully since 2019, we’ve seen it grow across the board of participation and I expect that to continue,” says Stewart. “One, because we’ve now had all these clubs in the league for four+ years minimum so the brand of each club is known within the rugby union clubs.

“Each year that I’ve been involved, the quality has got better and better and I don’t expect that to change.”

The RLBC season starts on May 25th with a Nines tournament and ends with the Grand Final at the end of July.

The full interview will be posted on our YouTube channel.

Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others. Brian has his own YouTube channel @brianlowe5567 where he posts his interviews for Rugby League Planet. Be sure to check it out and subscribe.