Toronto Wolfpack coach willing to give his players a second chance
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
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 man-mountain 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 family-like 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-year-old twin boys.
Interestingly, Rowley pays particular attention when it comes to recruiting halfbacks who quarterback 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 the spoils of 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 whinge 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.
Rowley expects two or three more signings to come.
Follow @NeilMDavidon on Twitter