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Canada Selects are looking to help with their rugby league showcase as Australia's NRL visits Sin City

Canada Selects are looking to help with their rugby league showcase as Australia's NRL visits Sin City

Nicholas Mew renews his wedding vows to Carrie, his wife of 30 years, on Friday in Las Vegas in front of an Elvis impersonator in an intimate rugby-themed ceremony. Then the 55-year-old elementary school teacher from Barrie, Ontario.

Nicholas Mew renews his wedding vows to Carrie, his wife of 30 years, on Friday in Las Vegas in front of an Elvis impersonator in an intimate rugby-themed ceremony.

Next, the 55-year-old elementary school teacher from Barrie, Ont., plans to lace up his boots and play in the Masters Rugby League Festival he helped create.

It's all part of the hype surrounding the start of Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) season, which begins on Saturday with a doubleheader at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, with the Manly Sea Eagles taking on the South Sydney Rabbitohs, whose ownership group includes actor Russell Crowe, The Sydney Roosters take on the Brisbane Broncos.

The three-team Festival of Masters is just one of the events surrounding the NRL's visit to Vegas, the opening in the A-League's five-year plan to open North American eyes to the lesser-known 13-man version of code rugby.

After the Mew and the Canada Selects take the field Friday in Masters action, the Canada Wolverines meet the USA Hawks in the Men's International Rugby League at a different venue.

The week also features rugby league coaching and management clinics. There is a Rugby League Festival at Vegas 9 on Thursday and Friday, showcasing the nine-a-side version of the game.

People like Meo are doing their bit to give rugby league a bigger platform, something much needed in North America following the folding of the Transatlantic Toronto Wolfpack in 2020 and the decision to reduce the field for the next two men's World Cups to 10 teams from 16 teams. Leaving little chance for teams like Canada to join the fold.

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Some, like Mew, are members of the Ontario Greybeards Masters team, based in Brampton, Ontario.

The Canadian Masters entry in Vegas attracts 13 players from the Greybeards (one of whom travels from Saskatchewan for training), two from the Georgian Bay Titans (a rugby union side in Collingwood, Ont.), two from Manitoba and four from British Columbia. Teams from the United States and Australia will play.

Wolverines manager Paul Buchanan is a member of the Greybeards but will report for national team duties on Friday.

Those selected include a civil engineer, a tow truck driver, several teachers, a vice principal, a college professor, a commercial building inspector, an electrician, a master cabinet maker, a partner in an accounting firm, and several retirees, among others.

There is a combination of father and son in Chris and Scott Bond. Not to mention a lot of experience.

“Because we're all 35 or older — and some of us are much older — what we bring to the game is not necessarily the on-court product, because the Masters Tournament is supposed to be a social version of the sport, but it keeps people connected,” Mew said. “With the game.” “And for some of us who maybe have been more experienced in our careers…they can connect with sponsors and they can open doors that a 19, 20, 21-year-old can't open.

“So we have the respect that comes with age. By getting older players involved in the sport, we hope to use that to benefit all levels so it's not just us,” he added.

There is no shortage of experience on the roster.

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Australian-born Josh Knight is the former president and current board member of the Canadian Rugby League Union. England-born Daniel Tait (Vice President) and Bob Jewitt (Managing Director and former President) also sit on the CRLA Board of Directors.

All Canadian players, both masters and international, will participate in Saturday's NRL doubleheader.

The entry age for Masters Rugby League is 35, with players wearing shorts and socks of different colors indicating their age and contact level.

People in their 30s wear white while people in their 40s wear black, with the two groups engaging in full contact.

Furthermore, those in their 60s wear gold shorts equipped with Velcro tags and are tackled if the opposing player seizes the tag. Only those over 60 need to tag an opposing player to record a tackle.

“In our experience, nothing irritates a 35-year-old with a head of steam more than a 65-year-old reaching out and tagging him, because that's the end of the play,” Mew said.

Mew said the score was supposed to be secondary, describing it as “rugby for people who have to go to work the next day.”

In Vegas, each team will play a total of 80 minutes, divided into two matches featuring teams from the United States and Australia.

Mew says the Festival of Masters is gaining momentum as England and Wales look to field teams next year. Ireland and New Zealand are also interested.

Mew thinks the trip would probably cost each player around $2,000, with his bill exceeding that since he and his wife were going.

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On Friday, they will have three couples as guests in the wedding chapel, with the men wearing rugby shirts.

“We're making it as vulgar as possible, just for the sheer entertainment value,” Mew said cheerfully.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2024

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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