A sec­ond try: Wolf­pack a haven for those seek­ing re­demp­tion in rugby

Vancouver Sun - - SPORTS - NEIL DAVID­SON

Toronto Wolf­pack coach Paul Row­ley prides him­self on be­ing a good judge of char­ac­ter.

Di­rec­tor of rugby Brian Noble, who has seen rugby league from ev­ery view­point, also knows what to look for in a player — and man.

In build­ing a win­ning team from scratch, Row­ley and Noble have taken gam­bles along the way.

Sean Penky­wicz and Shaun Pick were signed af­ter serv­ing out dop­ing bans. For­mer Great Bri­tain and Eng­land for­ward Ryan Bai­ley has been open about his strug­gle with de­pres­sion and how he al­most quit the sport be­cause of it.

This week the Wolf­pack an­nounced the sign­ing of State of Ori­gin vet­eran and Aus­tralian in­ter­na­tional Dave (Coal Train) Tay­lor, a six-foot-two 289-pound man­moun­tain whose high-fly­ing ca­reer was de­railed tem­po­rar­ily by a guilty plea to co­caine pos­ses­sion.

So is Toronto a sec­ond-chance home for trou­bled rugby lea­guers?

The 42-year-old Row­ley says he’s suc­ceeded with play­ers where oth­ers have failed be­cause he is hon­est with them and be­cause he makes a point of giv­ing his teams a fam­i­ly­like feel. “I thrive on giv­ing the love and sup­port to the peo­ple that need it,” he said. “And I thrive on see­ing my play­ers do that for one another, as well. What you find is you get a group of tough blokes who aren’t afraid to give peo­ple a cud­dle (or) shed a tear.”

Row­ley, a for­mer Eng­land hooker, is no cream puff. Af­fa­ble with both play­ers and press, there is clearly a steely side un­der­neath.

He is re­al­is­tic about the fact that a rough-and-tum­ble sport can at­tract rough char­ac­ters.

“They al­ways talk about rugby play­ers be­ing role mod­els,” he said. “No­body ever signs up to be a role model. So we want all these vi­o­lent in­di­vid­u­als, but we want them to act like public school­boys who have been brought up with a sil­ver spoon (in their mouth).”

Play­ers can come from tough back­grounds, from rough ar­eas or bro­ken fam­i­lies.

“Some­times they need a fa­ther fig­ure and that’s what I’ve tried to be on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions,” said Row­ley, a fa­ther him­self to 10-yearold twin boys.

In­ter­est­ingly, Row­ley pays par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion when it comes to re­cruit­ing half­backs who quar­ter- back the team.

“I think their back­ground and the sta­bil­ity of their up­bring­ing is im­por­tant be­cause they need to bring sta­bil­ity to my team,” he said.

To­gether Row­ley, Noble and as­sis­tant coaches Si­mon Fin­ni­gan and Kurt Haggerty have built a team that not only wins but gets along, de­spite be­ing more than 5,500 kilo­me­tres away from fam­ily and friends for weeks at a time.

“A good set of lads,” said for­ward An­drew Dixon. “We en­joy be­ing with each other ... it helps on these long trips be­ing away from your fam­i­lies.”

The Wolf­pack (19-1-1) have also been good cit­i­zens, mak­ing head­lines for the right rea­sons. They have won ku­dos for both their play and their bond with fans, with play­ers hap­pily work­ing their way around Lam­port Sta­dium af­ter ev­ery home match to min­gle with fans.

The Wolf­pack wrap up their in­au­gu­ral sea­son Satur­day against fifth-place Don­caster (10-8-3), hav­ing al­ready won pro­mo­tion and the King­stone Press League 1 ti­tle with last weekend’s 26-2 win over Bar­row.

The team is com­ing off an ex­tended cel­e­bra­tion, not re­turn­ing to prac­tice un­til Thurs­day.

“I won’t lie,” said Row­ley. “The boys have had a good few days, they’ve cel­e­brated pretty hard. But it came to kind of an or­ganic con­clu­sion by their own means rather than en­forced by my­self. So I think by late Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, the boys were find­ing their ways to the gym and sauna, et cetera, and crav­ing a lit­tle bit of the rou­tine that they so of­ten whine about or sulk about.

“I think they’re happy to be back now and do what they do best.”

There is lit­tle at stake for the Wolf­pack other than to main­tain their per­fect record at home.

But Row­ley says he will be watch­ing the sea­son fi­nale closely.

“It’s im­por­tant that (Satur­day’s) game leaves a good taste in my mouth for the fol­low­ing sea­son.”

Tay­lor is one of five new sign­ings for next sea­son when the Wolf­pack will play in the sec­ond-tier Cham­pi­onship. The oth­ers are Aus­tralian NRL vet­eran Josh McCrone, Al­ba­nian-born Olsi Kras­niqi, Fiji in­ter­na­tional Ash­ton Sims and Tom Arm­strong of the Widnes Vik­ings.

DAVE ABEL

Paul Row­ley, left, says the rough-and-tum­ble world of rugby league can at­tract rough char­ac­ters — and some­times they need a fa­ther fig­ure.

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