Written by Stuart McLennan
A new rugby league club will launch in Stoke-on-Trent for season 2022 and experiences gained 17,000 km away in Sydney, Australia will be a major influence.
Founder Martin Pye is a Stoke native who emigrated to Australia with his family when he was eight years old, while inaugural coach and ex Red Star mentor Trev Smith cut his teeth on the fields of Sydney’s western suburbs.
The establishment of the Stoke Staffies is the culmination of a dream to bring rugby league to Stoke-on-Trent after Pye returned to his city of birth to take up job opportunities.
“It was during my time (playing) at Hemel Stags that I realised that one day I wanted to form my own club in the UK, and develop something special,” Pye told Everything Rugby League.
“The man who owned Hemel, and signed me on for two years was an Aussie called Bob Brown, and he took that club on to the professional ranks. I was fortunate to be there when they were promoted to the national competition.”
Pye attended renowned southern Sydney rugby league school, James Cook Boys High, where former NRL and Super League coach Brian Smith was the PE master. He played rugby league for a number of clubs in Sydney, Qld, South Australia and the UK.
Pye recruited Australian Trev Smith to be the Staffies first coach. Smith has an impressive CV that includes coaching at Red Star and a number of clubs and academies in Sydney. The coach will also set up the UK division of Virtus Rugby League Academy whilst there.
“We really went after Trev Smith, because of his passion and real love for rugby league. His work with the academies and his international status in rugby league shows the intentions of this new club right from the start.
“People have nothing but good things to say about Trev, and I also think he may well attract a few players to us too. I know he loves it in the UK and has friends up north so he will only be an hour away to see his UK ‘family’.”
As was the case with Red Star, Smith is excited about the new challenge and the opportunity to live and work in a different part of the world.
“I enjoy travelling and coaching and helping to spread the great game of rugby league and I love the challenges that come with it,” Smith said.
“I’ve never been to Stoke even throughout my travels in the UK. What I’m expecting to see is a good hard working city, great community and from a rugby league point of view I’m expecting players who want to represent the city with pride, honor and put rugby league on the map in North Staffordshire
“I’ll be bringing a professional attitude with me to the Staffies where, with the help of the club, we can both work together to build a solid foundation and put things into place, not just for the current generation of players but as well the next generation.
“I do see some similarities between the two clubs (Red Star and Stoke). Both clubs aren’t from the heartland of rugby league and they both want rugby league to grow not just at their clubs but out within their communities. Both clubs also want to create pathways for their players who go through their system from a grassroots level to hopefully one day playing professionally in Australia (NRL) or the UK (Super League)”
The Staffies will go into battle next year with an impressive logo designed by Louise Woodward-Styles. Pye says it is a good reflection of the area the club represents.
“Stoke is in Staffordshire, the Staffie is the dog of choice here, and they’re tough and uncompromising. The bottle kiln in the background is synonymous with the pottery region we are in . The old bottle kilns are all over Stoke, where Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Minton pottery was the main business for hundreds of years.
“The competition sees us up against the likes of Birmingham, Leamington Spa, Derby, Worcester and others in the Midlands Rugby League. This is the 5th tier of rugby league in the country. Very similar to a country rugby league competition.
“We play through the summer here, and that is a lot better than when I played in the 90’s through the winter, believe me.
“Anybody interested in having a run with us from Australia can contact us on our Facebook page, or email us at Staffiesrugbyleague@outlook.com”