Photo by Jax MacKenzie Photography
A contingent of Fijian players helped the Edinburgh Eagles rugby league club achieve a record 11th Scottish National League title recently.
The Pacific island nation’s positive impact on rugby league in both hemispheres, including recently with the Kaiviti Silktails competing in the NSW Cup competition, has been well documented. The involvement with Scottish rugby league at Edinburgh is perhaps less well known.
“A number of the (Fijian) guys are serving in the armed forces and are based locally. Then there’s family members and friends too,” Edinburgh Eagles Chairperson Barry McGuffog explained to Everything Rugby League.
“Two years ago we fielded a junior team entirely made up of Scottish-qualified players of Fijian origin. They bring so much both on and off the field. On field there’s their obvious presence, physicality and exciting style of play, but off field the culture and passion for the game.
“We’ve also recently brought our longest serving Fijian player, Mo Tukana, on to the board at the club to ensure the lads’ views and voices were correctly represented.
“In addition to the Fijian guys, and obviously those from Scotland, the last few seasons have seen us with players from England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Italy and Poland at the Edinburgh Eagles.”
The @edineagles Fijian contingent with a special offering after the final whistle 🇫🇯🏴 pic.twitter.com/7nOfhQ0SDy
— Scotland Rugby League 🏴 (@scotlandrl) August 7, 2021
Mcguffog believes a combination of goal setting and hunger for success has been the key to Edinburgh’s achievements.
“Winning the League and Cup this year were two of the targets we set ourselves at the start of the season so it’s great to hit those goals. It’s our third consecutive title and, as you say 11th, overall which makes us the most successful Scottish club. I can only really speak for the 5 years I’ve been involved in relation to what’s made the club successful but it’s probably the drive, desire and passion for the game.
“Since 2016 we’ve gone from no home ground and only 3 lads training to 3 years at Royal High School and over 30 training regularly. Aside from Scottish titles, we’ve reached the North East of England RL (NERL) Cup Final, won the NERL Grand Final, hosted Saluzzo Roosters from Italy and Aspatria from West Cumbria plus represented the domestic competition in the Challenge Cup on two occasions and fielded a junior team for the first time in the clubs’ history.”
There was a slightly sour taste to the premiership win when Strathmore Silverbacks pulled out of the Final due to a pre-season rugby union commitment. The final game for the Eagles ended up being an exhibition match against a Scottish Selection made up of players from the other competing clubs.
“Obviously nobody wants to win trophies by default but it is what it is. It was disappointing that Strathmore made the decisions they did, and I’ve made my feelings on it clear to both them and the governing body. From our perspective, though it’s done with and currently sits in the hands of Scotland Rugby League to deal accordingly,” McGuffog said.
The Edinburgh Eagles Chair is looking ahead and can see a bright future for rugby league in Scotland and accordingly the club, which was formed in 1998, has plans to be bigger and better in 2022.
“One positive from 2020 was the formation of Forth Valley Vikings so, along with Aberdeen Warriors also returning for the Cup ahead of a potential return to the League set up next year, we currently have six teams. Whilst this isn’t as strong as rugby league (in Scotland) has been previously as such, it’s the strongest it’s been for the last 5,6,7 years in terms of numbers of both teams and players.”
“The early plan is to hopefully run two open age teams, one in the North East of England competitions and one in the Scottish competitions. This is less of a first and second team and more about creating more opportunities to play. We have some lads who work Saturday mornings so can’t necessarily travel to Jarrow Vikings or Durham Tigers in the North East, but could make it to Glasgow or Fife.
“We have the squad this year to potentially see us through the first round of the Challenge Cup next season, should amateur clubs return and we get a place. A streamed or televised game would be huge for us and the sport in Scotland. We also want to get the juniors off the ground again in 2022 to give us some firmer foundations for the future.”
Like many rugby league fans across the globe, the Scottish administrator was disappointed the 2021 World Cup eventually had to be postponed but he is hopeful there will still be activity for the national side in the meantime.
“We have a couple of lads like our captain Lewis Clarke and player-coach Craig Robertson who have full caps, plus a number of others that have been involved in the various representative programmes at U16, U19 and student level.
“Regarding the World Cup, as a club, we were looking particularly forward to the Scotland/Fiji game so it’s obviously disappointing to see it being postponed, especially under the circumstances. Fingers crossed that hopefully, Scotland RL will be able to arrange some alternative fixtures and that some of our lads can be involved.”
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