Kelowna’s profile on the national rugby stage will get a boost this weekend when three members of the Crows men’s team suit up for the Canada Wolverines.
Rick Schouten, Jeff Lohse and Barak Pauls will play with Canada’s Rugby League squad in an international match against Fiji on Saturday in Honolulu, Hawaii.
A fourth Kelowna player, Daniel Blasco-Morris, played on the Canadian team last year but an injury prevented him from earning a spot in Hawaii.
Schouten, 24, made his debut with Canada last year in Florida at the regional qualifier for the 2017 World Cup, then joined the Wolverines again last month at the Rugby League Americas Cup in Philadephia.
“It was surreal, an amazing experience last year and it’s nice to be getting a chance to play with Canada again this year,” said Schouten, a centre who has played for the Crows for the last seven seasons.
Pauls, 25, and Lohse, 25, will both be making their first ever appearances with the national program.
The threesome left for Hawaii Wednesday and will train with the Wolverines for the next couple of days leading up to Saturday’s match, one of three games at the annual Ohana Cup event at Aloha Stadium. The other games feature Somoa against Tonga, and New South Wales taking on Hawaii.
“It’s a pretty nice opportunity to get, it’s cool to be representing Canada and to have a chance to do the ‘Canada’ cheer at the beginning of the game,” said Pauls, who plays fly half for the Crows but will be a half back for the Wolverines. “There’s a certain amount of pride that goes along with wearing that shirt, so I’m sure I’ll be feeling that. I’m also looking forward to training in a high-performance, professional environment.”
Lohse, who has played the past two seasons with the Crows, is happy to be part of Canada’s Rugby League program for the first time.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play nationally,” said Lohse who plays wing. “I never thought I’d get the opportunity until this year. I hope it’s not the last.”
With the Crows men’s team, Schouten, Lohse and Pauls play Rugby Union rules.
A variation of the union game, Rugby League is not as well known in Canada, but is very popular in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and England.
Rugby League features 13 players instead of 15 in the union game, and their is no ruck or lineouts making for a higher tempo of play.
“It’s an exciting game to play, there’s more running, it moves faster and it’s hard hitting,” said Schouten. “We’re trying to grow Rugby League and we’re starting to see that happen. It’s huge in a lot of other countries and now we want to bring it up to the same level here.”
In the long term, all the Kelowna players would like nothing more than to help Canada earn a Rugby League World Cup berth in 2021.
The recent national exposure for players such as Schouten, Lohse, Pauls and Blasco-Morris is helping raise the quality of rugby being played back home in Kelowna.
Two other Crows players, Jared Currie and David-James Pauls, are members of Canada’s young Wolverines, also referred to as the U23 program.
“There’s a lot of talent, some good up-and-coming players in Kelowna,” Lohse said. “Hopefully the success some of the guys are having will grow interest in the game.”
After winning back-to-back B.C. Rugby Union Div. 3 titles, the Crows will be returning up to the 1st and 2nd divisions levels for the 2016-17 season.
The club has started preparations for the fall campaign and is looking for prospective new players.
For more information on the Crows, contact Aaron Sangster at email@example.com.