Ottawa Aces rugby team to join upstart North American league in 2022
Ottawa one of two Canadian teams to join new league
The owner of the Ottawa Aces is backing the new North American Rugby League (NARL), with plans to join for the 2022 season.
The idea of playing in a 14-team North American league instead of the previous plan to participate in the British third division league overseas just makes sense, according to Eric Perez, the team's president.
Before taking to the pitch in 2022, the Aces will participate in a domestic cup against the Toronto Wolfpack.
"We'll invite 25 athletes to our training camp ... and those 25 will play in the Canada Cup," Perez told CBC Radio's All In A Day.
"The Canada Cup will be Toronto versus Ottawa. We'll do it every year. As we add more franchises to this league, and we will, they'll get added to this tournament as well."
He wants players involved in the Canada Cup to have an opportunity to play for contracts for the 2022 season.
WATCH | 'It's like football on fast-forward': Ottawa's rugby team is joining the North American league
Perez's involvement in rugby began over a decade ago, with the creation of the Canada Rugby League Association, and later, starting up the Toronto Wolfpack rugby team. These days though, his focus is on Ottawa and getting past the pandemic.
"Most of the players that get invited to this will be local players from eastern Ontario and [western] Quebec," he said. "We want to find the best athletes from this region."
The Aces were slated to play their 2021 home games out of TD Place stadium at Lansdowne Park, but the pandemic nixed those plans, he said.
In the meantime, the three-game Canada Cup series against Toronto this season will be a way for Perez and the Aces to identify talent and prepare for 2022 in the NARL, he said.
Pandemic travel restrictions are also behind the decision for Canadian teams to wait out the league's inaugural season.
The Toronto team will be known as the Wolfpack, but is a separate entity from the franchise created by Perez and which collapsed last year after standing down in July from England's Super League due to financial problems.
The NARL will play by the 13-player rugby code that is mainly played in England, Australia and New Zealand, along with having some presence in France and the Pacific Islands. Major League Rugby, a 12-team North American circuit which is in its fourth year with the Toronto Arrows, the lone Canadian entry, plays rugby union — the more popular 15-player version of the game that is featured every four years in the Rugby World Cup.
The NARL's East Coast Conference will comprise of the Atlanta Rhinos, Boston 13s, Brooklyn Kings, Cleveland Rugby League, New York Rugby League and Washington Cavalry.
The Toronto and Ottawa teams will join the conference in 2022.
The first round of U.S. competition will start June 19 in Brooklyn and June 20 in Las Vegas. Games will continue to be played in a single stadium on one day, with no fans due to COVID-19.
The teams will play a 20-game schedule during the shortened 2021 campaign.
With files from the Canadian Press