Rugby league has taken Ryan Burroughs from his Virginia home to Australia and now England, where the man they call Captain America is currently based with the Toronto Wolfpack.
The 25-year-old back, who calls Huddersfield home these days, says he is living the dream with rugby league’s first transatlantic team.
“It’s been wonderful,” he said with a hint of a southern drawl. “Training’s been good, getting me in pretty much in the best shape of my life. Just learning the game, learning how to play it right. It’s been a blast.”
A fan approached him recently while he was out getting an ice cream and asked to take a picture with him
“Which was pretty cool. I’ve never had that happen before,” he said.
The Wolfpack visit Doncaster RLFC on Sunday in a battle of 3-0-0 teams in the Kingstone Press League 1, the third tier of English rugby league. The game will be at the 15,000-capacity Keepmoat Stadium, which also serves hosts soccer’s Doncaster Rovers.
Toronto, a fully professional side looking to win promotion and climb the rugby league ladder, has yet to lose a competitive game in five outings so far. Four of those games have been against semi-pro opposition.
Toronto will be reinforced by the return of marauding prop Fuifui Moimoi from a three-game ban. The game may also see the debut of veteran Ryan Bailey, a former Great Britain and England international signed this week.
The 32-year-old prop has been on the sidelines since leaving Warrington at the end of 2016. He has won six Super League Grand Finals, three World Club Challenge titles and a Challenge Cup.
Burroughs was a running back and wide receiver at high school in Manassas, Va. Some three years ago, just as he was ending a three-year stint in the U.S. army, he was convinced by a friend to try rugby union with a local club team.
“I went out and played and had a blast playing (rugby) union,” he said.
His same friend then got Burroughs to try rugby league. He was instantly hooked.
“I was like I can’t get enough of this game. It’s amazing. I just wanted to keep playing.”
He spent a season with the North Virginia Eagles, which led to a successful tryout for the U.S. national team. Burroughs helped the U.S. qualify for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, at the expense of Canada and Jamaica.
U.S. teammates Danny and Steve Howard played in Australia for the Wentworthville Magpies and helped set him up last year at the NRL Parramatta’s Eels’ feeder club.
“It was amazing, I can’t lie,” he said. “It was a blast playing footie.”
The five-foot-11 185-pounder spent close to a year Down Under, working as an air conditioning tradesman when not playing or training.
Fellow U.S. international Mark Offerdahl, who plays for the London Broncos, told Burroughs about the Wolfpack. Soon the players were sharing an agent.
“I had my heart set on coming to play for the Wolfpack,” Burroughs said. “That’s where I wanted to go and they were able to make it happen. (Wolfpack) coach Paul Rowley saw my footage and knew I was still a bit raw and new to the game but he was willing to give me a shot so I can’t thank him enough for that.”
He left Australia last October, spent a month at home with his family and then joined the Wolfpack training camp in the northern England in November.
Burroughs is the lone North American-born player currently listed on the Wolfpack roster. Rhys Jacks and Tom Dempsey are so-called heritage Canadian internationals â€” Australians who qualify for Canada through their bloodlines.
Chad Bain of Belleville, Ont., and Victoria’s Quinn Ngawati are part of the club but are seen as long-term projects.
Toronto is bringing Burroughs along slowly. He played the entire game again Siddal in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and came off the bench two weeks against Keighley in league play.
A wing-fullback, Burroughs has excellent Wolfpack role models in Liam Kay, Jonny Pownall and Quentin Lualu-Togaga’e.
“I’ve been getting nothing but positive feedback from the coaches and they’ve said I’ve been going great,” he said. “Liam and Jonny, the other two wingers are phenomenal players.”
Burroughs, who has never been to Canada, says he can’t want to come to Toronto. The Wolfpack home opener is May 6.
“It looks sick. It looks like it’d be a fun place,” he said.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press