By Julian Clarkstone
It’s not your everyday Rugby League story when you hear that someone has started playing the sport in Northern Virginia, then ends up in Sydney, Australia, before landing in Toronto, all within the space of two years.
This is exactly what has happened to Ryan Burroughs, who after joining the USARL competition with the Northern Virginia Eagles in 2015, has been signed to the Toronto Wolfpack in 2017, the first professional Rugby League team in North America and the first ever Trans-Atlantic sporting team.
Burroughs has made a swift and smooth transition into Rugby League.
After first being selected for the USARL Hawks at the end of 2015, he played a key role in the team’s successful Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers Campaign.
In 2016 he made a huge decision to chase his dreams in Australia, joining Hawks teammates Danny and Steve Howard at the Wentworthville Magpies in Sydney.
The increased level of competition he faced in Australia has prepared Burroughs for the journey with the Wolfpack, as he was not overawed by the competition in 2016, scoring 17 tries throughout the year.
“The 2016 season has made me a better player in many ways,” Burroughs said.
“It’s evolved my game in every aspect i can think of and i only plan to keep progressing.”
“My time playing for Wenty has definitely best prepared me for the journey ahead with the Wolfpack.”
Whilst Burroughs is unsure of what position he will be playing for the Wolfpack in 2017, he has his eyes set on the fullback spot and is also comfortable on the wing, which is where he played in 2016 and he significantly improved his defensive game thanks to his coach and former NRL Grand Finalist with the Parramatta Eels, Alex Chan.
“Alex Chan has been the biggest influence on my improvement throughout my short Rugby League career, I honestly couldn’t thank that man enough for all the time and effort he took before and after practice to teach me all the little things that it takes to be a successful player.”
“He’ll probably make fun of me if he ever reads this article but I’ll take that!”
Alex Chan is very pleased to see Burroughs’ progression since joining his team at Wentworthville, which he has put down to his commitment off the field.
“He came without any reservations or expectations and really was a great ambassador for himself, his family and his Country.”
“He held his starting spot on the wing where he showed great speed which led to many line breaks and tries, but more importantly to me he showed great toughness both physically and mentally which was evident when he never missed a game throughout the season.”
“He continually asked for improvements he needed to help his game, which I enjoyed as there aren’t too many student footballers these days that appreciate and aren’t scared to ask for help,” Chan said.
Burroughs now has the opportunity to be coached by another great Rugby League mind, with former Leigh Centurions coach and England International Paul Rowley named as the inaugural coach of the Wolfpack.
“The chance to be coached by Paul Rowley is pretty exciting to think about, I’ve heard nothing but great things about him and I plan on putting in nothing but the time and effort to be the best player that I can be for him and the Wolfpack.”
Much like Burroughs’ enthusiasm, the Wolfpack is also excited to be working with American talent and are hoping that Ryan can blaze a trail for more athletes to join the team.
Paul Rowley, the Head Coach of the Toronto Wolfpack said: “We made a commitment to North America and Canada to unearth talent from within to which Ryan is one of the several targets we have identified.”
“Ryan is a very proud American man with an unbelievable enthusiasm for the task ahead and I’m looking forward to working with him and guiding him to improve and progress as a player.”
Other than being signed to the first ever professional Rugby League team in North America, a significant milestone for Burroughs is that he is the first person from the USA to be signed with the Wolfpack.
Like many Americans, Ryan played Football before Rugby League, and he is hopeful that more Americans can transfer their skills across to the growing sport and further incentive has been added since the inception of the Wolfpack.
“I do think that a lot of players will start making the transition from football to Rugby League, it’s actually not as different as people would think and it’s very easy to transition.”
If more US based players sign with the Wolfpack it will only help grow Rugby League across North America and representing a North American side is a motivation factor for Burroughs.
“Playing for a North American side definitely gives me a sense of pride, it just proves the growth of the game.”
“Having the Toronto Wolfpack encourages the two nations (USA and Canada) to work together.”
“The Wolfpack have had tryouts for the club in multiple states in the US and put in a great effort for the USARL North vs. South All-Star game.”
Burroughs has already had the chance to work with several Canadians during the Liberty Cup in Australia in 2016, including Canada Rugby League’s head coach, Aaron Zimmerle.
Burroughs played fullback for the CanAm Grizzlies (combined USA and Canada Rugby League side) in the Liberty Cup, which was formed after several players from USA and Canada moved to Australia in 2016 to play Rugby League.
There is plenty going on for North American Rugby League, the Toronto Wolfpack is a significant piece in growing the sport not only in Canada, but in the US as well.
“I think that having a Professional Rugby League team in North America has definitely increased the chances of the US and Canada holding future World Cups.”
“I feel that it will spark people’s interests and take off, especially if a prestigious event like the Rugby League World Cup was to be held here.”
Wolfpack fans worldwide will have to wait until March 4 to see the first match against the London Skolars and Burroughs will be doing everything he can to make sure he can help the team get off to a winning start.
“The Wolfpack has me thinking about Rugby League long term, I plan on giving Rugby League everything I can and will do everything I can do to get to the highest level possible.”
USARL would like to congratulate Ryan Burroughs on his fantastic achievement and wish him the best for 2017 with the Wolfpack and beyond.