TORONTO — Despite leaving the Super League and moving two divisions down to join the Toronto Wolfpack, Ryan Brierley says he is living the dream.
Rugby league is fun again for the 25-year-old halfback.
“I’d not been happy playing rugby league for 18 months,” said Brierley. “But as soon as I signed under Paul (coach Paul Rowley) and for Toronto, I’m like a little kid again, I’m really happy.”
“I needed to find that love back for the game. The Toronto Wolfpack have certainly given me that back,” he added.
Fresh from their home-opening win in Toronto, the Wolfpack (6-0-0) are back in England for a game at the Newcastle Thunder (3-3-0) on Friday.
Joining the Wolfpack has rejuvenated Brierley, who scored 131 tries in a little more than four season for the Leigh Centurions before moving up to join Huddersfield in the top flight of the sport in March 2016.
Much of his time at Leigh was spent under Rowley, who favours an expansive attacking style.
The switch to Super League did not turn out as planned. Huddersfield changed coaches and Brierley’s attacking style of running did not fit in the Giants’ more conservative approach.
“It was a tough period of my career,” he said. “The contrast in styles of play didn’t really suit my attributes which was pretty disappointing.
“Listen, for me, I just needed to be loved. I was kind of giving up on the sport as a whole but Paul and Eric (Wolfpack CEO Eric Perez) and (co-owner) David Argyle spoke to me and let me know their ambitions for this team, and wanting me to be a big part of it.”
Brierley is still buzzing about the 62-12 win over Oxford RLFC last Saturday, when an announced crowd of 6,281 braved a wet, grey day to see the Wolfpack’s home opener at Lamport Stadium.
“It was pretty special,” said Brierley, who made his Toronto debut two matches ago at Salford. “Probably the most special part of my career so far. The fans were crazy. We really didn’t know what to expect coming here but the fans were awesome. Probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a professional rugby league player.
“Full credit for Canada and Toronto itself for accepting us as part of their family. We’re very privileged and honoured to be representing this city.”’
At Huddersfield, Brierley said he used to play before 4,500 to 5,000 a game.
“Rugby league is dying a little bit back home. I think it just needed bringing a bit of freshness to it and I think the Toronto Wolfpack did that.”
Like many of the Wolfpack players — most of whom call the north of England home — last week was their first trip to Canada. Rugby league’s first transatlantic team is essentially based in England, commuting to Toronto as needed.
Brierley will long remember his first visit here.
“Driving into the stadium the other day, we’re driving past the CN Tower and I was thinking ‘How did life get so good in such a short space or time?’”
It helps that Rowley believes in fostering a happy clubhouse atmosphere — and that a number of the Wolfpack players also spent time at Leigh.
“I can’t really describe it to you. It’s like going to work with 25, 30 of your best friends,” sad Brierley. “If you’re going to work with 25, 30 best friends, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
“Paul Rowley looks after us as people not players. We’re all human beings and we understand how important our normal day-to-day life is away from rugby league.”
Born in Preston, he grew up in Bolton and, thanks to his father, got into rugby league as a young boy. He learned his trade at the Castleford Tigers academy before Rowley took him to Leigh.
While in Toronto, Brierley is away from his partner and two-year-old daughter. He says they understand him being away and are just happy that he’s happy. “Which I’m very grateful for.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press