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The British Columbia-born, Australian-raised coach aims to motivate Canadian rugby league men

The British Columbia-born, Australian-raised coach aims to motivate Canadian rugby league men

Aaron Zimmerli's sporting journey took him from Australia to Las Vegas this week, and he's wearing Canadian colours.

The Canadian-born, Australian-based Zimmerli will coach the Canada Wolverines in an international rugby league match against the US Hawks on Friday in Sin City.

The match is part of the celebrations surrounding the start of Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) season on US soil on Saturday. The Manly Sea Eagles take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs before the Sydney Roosters take on the Brisbane Broncos at Allegiant Stadium, home of the AFL's Las Vegas Raiders.

The Canadians last played in November 2022, beating the United States 22-10 in Tampa, Florida. Due to the pandemic, this was their first act since the 2019 tour in Serbia.

Wolverines manager Paul Buchanan estimates the Canadian players have paid at least $1,500 to $2,000 to pay for the Vegas trip with their day jobs aside.

The Canadian contingent includes a plumber, a welder, a personal trainer, a wildlife researcher, a systems integration consultant, an IT specialist, a tool and die maker, two truck drivers, four teachers, and five university/college students.

They all come with their own story.

“When you start playing this sport as a kid, you don't really see where the journey can take you,” Zimmerli said in an interview. “We discussed that. This has been part of our process of connecting with each other, with players sharing their own journeys. And in all the stories, the successes and the failures, the game of rugby league and the people they have met through it are the things that help inspire them to carry on in every other aspect of their lives.

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“I feel like it's a special privilege to know that the game, because it's a brave game, can help shape young people. And when people tell you that story and are brave enough to share it with you, that's very special.”

Rugby league is a 13-player version of the code, unlike rugby union which is 15-player. It is mainly played in Australia, England and New Zealand.

In Canada, there are local leagues in Ontario and British Columbia with a small but dedicated group looking to grow the sport.

Zimmerle held the Wolverines' five-day training camp last July in Vancouver, where an East-West matchup helped aid Vegas' roster selection.

Zimmerli was born in Surrey, British Columbia, to a Canadian mother and an Australian father, and moved to Australia when he was ten years old.

“Moving there, at first I didn't feel like I fit in. I was lucky because I was fairly athletic and I had friends who encouraged me to play soccer (rugby league). Through that, I think you gain respect. So I was a Canadian kid who didn't know Exactly what was happening, but he tried hard.

He continued to play at semi-professional level, spending time in the reserve grade with the Penrith Panthers organization and then in the Queensland Regional Cup and NSW Cup.

Today Zimmerli works as a Queensland Cup assistant coach and head coach at Palm Beach Currumbin State High School on the Gold Coast. Known for its athletic excellence program, the school has won three national championships and produced more than 50 National Football League players.

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Zimmerli, who is in his second stint as Canada's coach, believes the Canadians are ideally suited for rugby league, a game that mixes hard hitting with complex strategy.

“They were designed just for that,” he said excitedly. “They're brave people. They're fearless physically. They're resilient. It's all the things that can't be overcome. Canadians have it naturally. So all we have to do is teach them how to play the game.”

The Canadian women's team, known as the Ravens, has competed in the last two editions of the Rugby League World Cup, earning victories in both 2017 in Australia (over Papua New Guinea) and 2021 in England (over Brazil).

The Wolverines have not yet qualified for the men's tournament.

Canada is currently ranked 46th in the world while the United States is ranked 33rd, a ranking that is biased due to the lack of matches played.

The rugby league rivalry between Canada and the United States dates back to 1987 when Canada won 23-10 in Pittsburgh.

Wolverine List

Charles Curran, Jason Park, Kyle Yorkiu (Brantford Broncos), Kimi Veneturaja (Vancouver Valley Vipers), Niko Andreunas, Jacob Bourne, Dillon Hamilton, Ben Stothers (Point Gray Thunder), David Astley, Jason Chuck, Lee Keagle, Daniel Martin ( Toronto City Saints), Cyler Dumas (Vancouver Dragons), Colton Carpenter, Luke Toroka (Valley Warriors), Blake Mahovec, Josh Michalek, Gus Murphy (Whistler Wolves).

Read also: British Columbia hosts the world's elite in women's rugby in the fall of 2024

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