Victoria teenager Quinn Ngawati officially signs with the Toronto Wolfpack
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TORONTO — Assistant coach Simon Finnigan knew he had something special when he saw Victoria teenager Quinn Ngawati at a Toronto Wolfpack tryout in Vancouver.
"There was something there that we didn't want anyone else to have," said Finnigan, a former Irish international.
Ngawati (pronounced Now-r-tee) officially signed with the Wolfpack on Saturday after coming off the bench in Toronto's 74-16 win over the Hemel Stags. The 18-year-old made his debut last weekend after the Wolfpack registered him with the Rugby Football League, allowing him to play on trial.
Now he's part of the transatlantic rugby league team with a contract covering this season and the next two.
"Anyone who starts playing a sport, it's always your goal to play professional," said Ngawati.
"In this environment I think I can test my limits, push my limits and become a better sportsman," he added.
Ngawati is the first Canadian-born player to play pro rugby league according to the Canada Rugby League Association, the governing body of the sport in Canada.
Wolfpack teammates Rhys Jacks and Tom Dempsey are Canadian internationals via their bloodlines. Both were born and raised in Australia.
The six-foot-four, 212-pound Ngawati had more work to do after impressing in the Vancouver tryout last November. One of 18 trialists taken to England for more Wolfpack scrutiny, Ngawati made the cut along with American Joe Eichner and Jamaican Nathan Campbell.
Now he is the only trialist left.
The Wolfpack initially planned to let him finish school and then find him somewhere where he could continue his rugby league studies. But a spate of injuries opened the door and the team brought him in to train during the four-game homestand that just wrapped up.
Coach Paul Rowley says Ngawati impressed from the get-go in training.
"Toughness, maturity," he said. "The fact he's a student of the game ... You've got two athletes and one's smart, I'll always pick the smart one. And we've got the smart one."
Ngawati is seen as a raw talent, but has not looked out of place in his two appearances to date. He can play both in the forwards and at centre.
Ngawati's father is from New Zealand with Maori roots. He played rugby league so the Canadian-born Quinn grew up immersed in both union and league. His mother is Canadian, meeting her future husband in New Zealand.
While he has represented Canada in rugby union at age-group level, he says he is now focused on the Wolfpack and rugby league.
Ngawati joins a largely English team although there are also Wolfpack players with ties to Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, Tonga, and Wales
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