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Toronto Wolfpack rugby team holds tryouts to hunt for raw talent

Eric Perez, the founder and CEO of the Toronto Wolfpack, left, head coach Paul Rowley and Toronto Mayor John Tory hold up jerseys of the new rugby league team on April 27, 2016.

Neil Davidson/The Canadian Press

The Toronto Wolfpack's search for a "rough diamond" officially starts Saturday.

The fledgling rugby league team will be running some 20 to 25 athletes through drills at Lamport Stadium, with more tryouts scheduled in October in Philadelphia, Tampa and Kingston, Jamaica. Vancouver may also host tryouts.

The Wolfpack are slated to start play in March in the third tier of English rugby league, with an eye to winning promotion and eventually climbing up the ladder to the Super League.

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The team has already announced the signing of a dozen players with English rugby league experience with more, including four Canadians and one American, having made verbal commitments.

The tryouts are an attempt to unearth raw talent who might flourish in the hard-hitting 13-man rugby code. Would-be players are being screened prior to the tryouts via a questionnaire before receiving an invitation.

"We'll be looking for a rough diamond basically," said Wolfpack coach Paul Rowley, a former England hooker. "Not one that's going to be a long-term project, one that has the ability to maybe transfer his skills in a different court over to rugby league in as short a space a time as possible.

"We expect good athletes. So a rough diamond we may find."

The top tryout talent will be invited to the club's training base in England to continue their journey, with the hope that some will make the squad. The club, which has already shown it is not afraid to dream big, is documenting the tryout process for a reality TV series called The Last Tackle.

While some have rugby league experience, the talent pool also includes several players who have had NFL tryouts.

"We had lots of interest," Wolfpack CEO Eric Perez said. "That why it was difficult to get it down to a manageable number."

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Perez believes the Jamaica tryouts will be especially fruitful, given the country's athletic talent and growing interest in the sport.

"I think the Jamaica trial is going to be super-intense and we will find a couple of guys there that are just next-level athletes," he said.

GM Brian Noble, who captained both England and the British Lions as well as coaching the Lions, says psychological makeup will be as important as physical talents in assessing those trying out.

"Obviously they're going to have to like a little bit of contact because it's a physical sport. ... But the strategy involved – it's like a game of chess within a game of chess," he said. "And then you've got to have the brutality of the size and the athletic prowess – to have the ability to do everything: run quickly, be agile, make sure you can get up and down off the ground.

"But the biggest challenge for me – and I played it for a long time – [is] it tests you more mentally than anything else I've ever done. It's a tough sport."

"It's a war of attrition," Rowley added.

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The Wolfpack's highest-profile signing to date is probably English centre Craig Hall (Hull FC, Hull Kingston Rovers and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats).

"He's been a Super League player and nothing else but a Super League player," Rowley said. "He's been a high achiever. He makes things happen. He's an entertainer. We've focused particularly on players that fit an entertaining-type bill because we believe obviously we're in the entertainment business and we play to entertain through the brand we play."

The Wolfpack expects to carry a roster of 30 players during the season, with some players lent out to other clubs.

The team will hold its training camp in England and play home and away games in blocks of several weeks to minimize travel. The Toronto team will pay the travelling expenses for visiting teams to start with.

Adult season tickets for the 12 home games at Lamport Stadium start at $310, with individual and group tickets available in November once the schedule is released.

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