League One: Ottawa Aces set to join in 2021

Canadian rugby league side Ottawa Aces will join League One in 2021, after taking on Hemel Stags’ licence.

The new club will play home matches at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium, and base their pre-season camp in England.

Chairman Eric Perez, who previously set up Super League club Toronto Wolfpack, confirmed a new head coach would be appointed in “five or six weeks”.

Under Rugby Football League operational rules, the club can recruit players from June onwards.

Hemel Stags withdrew from the league in 2019 in order to pave the way for Ottawa’s development, and continue to operate as a club in the Southern Conference League.

The RFL also confirmed that discussions with New York Rugby League are progressing and that negotiations are at an advanced stage for the US side to enter the Rugby League Challenge Cup first round next year.

RFL chairman Simon Johnson gave a impassioned speech to the Canadian media about rugby league’s inextricable links to Britain’s industrial past, and new horizons in France and now Canada.

Questions were fielded about the difference between league and the established union game in Canada, while Sonny Bill Williams and Toronto were also a point of discussion.

“Today is Commonwealth day and its fitting to launch our latest expansion with the Ottawa Aces,” Johnson said.

“We’ve seen positive impact made by Toronto and now seeing the wonderful facilities in Ottawa, we can feel the excitement from rugby league being played in this setting.

“It’ll be a vibrant new perspective to our great game. League is a fast passionate and exciting sport, it’s in-play more, the ball in the hand and passed more, there are fewer technical rules for a beginner to learn and first class athletes.

“The sports heartland is the north of England, but its vision is now global.”

Perez and the Aces’ new head coach will have a blank canvas on which to create a squad, but there is little concern about obtaining the right personnel.

Toronto brought in Josh McCrone from the National Rugby League, plus experienced players such as Craig Hall and Liam Kay from Super League, when they joined League One.

However, no names have been mentioned at this stage.

“The player window opens in June and during summer and fall, we’ll make a lot of signings,” Perez said at the press conference. “We’ll get together in December.

“I’m the chairman, so I’m not hands on on that process, I can’t tell you players we’re looking up, but when we get to June, the floodgates will open.

“Players are really looking forward to try to get on this roster, it’s an opportunity that we’re providing.”

One of the criticisms levelled at Toronto is a lack of homegrown players, with Quinn Ngawati the only Canadian player to make an appearance for the franchise.

Perez is keen to see Ottawa become more reflective of domestic talent, but used the example of the Toronto Raptors – 2019 NBA champions – whose development of basketball players was a slow-burn process following their entry in to the US elite competition in 1995.

“To me the more Canadians playing is a generational thing,” Perez added.

Perez continued: “It’s a generational issue, over time we’ll have more and more [players coming through], and we’ll see if we can get Canadians playing in league.

“Our plan is to develop a full academy to help players play in the league in general, whether it’s here or across the league.”

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