Written by Stuart McLennan
Genghis Campbell loves rugby league.
What’s remarkable is he grew up in a rugby union heartland (Wales) before moving in 2005 to a country more familiar with ice hockey (Canada).
“I always found rugby union a bit dull, although the 5/6 Nations atmosphere was always fun,” Campbell explained.
The first time I think rugby league would have registered would have been when ‘Jiffy’ (Welsh rugby union convert Jonathan Davies also referred to as the Welsh Wizard) headed to Widnes.
“I remember watching one of his early games on the BBC in some muddy ramshackle stadium and I remember being blown away by how much faster the game was, which led to finding out why the game was confined to the North of England, and why Welsh players going North got a life ban, despite boot money/shamateurism being an open secret.”
Like a number of other rugby league fans living in Canada, Campbell immersed himself in following the Toronto Wolfpack after they debuted in 2017. The club’s existence was unfortunately short lived after they rose rapidly from League One to Super League before being denied re-entry in 2021 by a vote by the Super League and Rugby Football League boards, and fellow Super League clubs. The club was forced to withdraw from the competition in 2020 due to the financial challenges caused by the Covid pandemic.
“There is a very low profile for any rugby over here (Canada), so when I read about the Toronto Wolfpack forming a team in the RFL pyramid I was fascinated. I didn’t really think they’d last a season, but I wanted to see how it went. Saw my first live game and was hooked. It was wonderful watching the crowds swell and seeing people fall in love with the sport and players. Which makes the way it ended so much more galling.
“I’m going to be watching the NRL this year. With the exception of Leeds, Catalans and Saints, I’m boycotting Super League (cancelled my Sportsnet World sub). I’ll watch OurLeague, on the basis that the RFL was actually fairly supportive relative to Elstone.
“The atmosphere at Lamport Stadium (Toronto) was incredible. Ten thousand people, most of them new to the game. Thrown away by a league that wants a national profile but no expansion.
“I’m not sure what the future holds for rugby league in North America. The recently announced Canadian Co-operative Championship League (CCCL) sounds hopeful, and I’ll be behind it if it gets off the ground. My main concern is that the Toronto Arrows RU club will benefit from all the Wolfpack’s work. Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
One thing that is unlikely to cease is Campbell purchasing rugby league merchandise and adding to the already impressive stash he has acquired.
“I think I cover most continents, but if I had to choose, I’d probably go with my Papua New Guinea jersey as my favourite. The fans seem crazy for the game, and I like the aggressive way the team plays.
“I completely agree with the contention that international rugby league is underdeveloped, and (merchandise is) a great opportunity to expand interest in the game.
“Rugby league is fast, simple and exciting. Hugely accessible players, which is probably the game's biggest asset. It is criminally underexposed, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.
“I’ve met some fantastic people thanks to rugby league and the Toronto Wolfpack. I hope that the game isn’t lost to Canada as a result of this.
“I hope to get to Australia when this is over to watch some live games. It will be a lot easier than getting up at 5:30am!”
Footnote: Anyone interested in the history Campbell refers to with Welsh rugby union players heading North and turning to rugby league should seek out the BBC documentary ‘The Rugby Codebreakers.’