Canada Ravens women look to end Rugby League World Cup campaign on a winning note

The Canada Ravens look to end their Rugby League World Cup campaign on a winning note Wednesday against tournament debutant Brazil in Leeds, England.

Having lost to Papua New Guinea (34-12) and England (54-4), the Canadian women cannot advance to the semifinals. Pride and third place in Group A are on the line Wednesday at Headlingley Stadium.

Brazil is also winless, having lost 72-4 to England and 70-0 to Papua New Guinea.

For Canada captain Gabrielle Hindley, the tournament has been positive.

"We've had a really great experience here so far, losses aside," she said. "The girls have really embraced the whole tournament experience … Maybe not the results we wanted. Now we're just looking forward for our game against Brazil. There'd be nothing better than ending on a high."

The Ravens are ranked sixth in the world compared to No. 17 for Brazil, although the rankings mean little given Canada's international inactivity.

The second game of Wednesday's doubleheader sees No. 3 England play No. 4 Papua New Guinea to decide first place in the group. Top-ranked Australia meets No. 2 New Zealand on Thursday to decide Group B supremacy.

All four are headed to the semifinals.

Hindley says one lesson the tournament has taught is the value of the Ravens spending time together, allowing them to build stronger connections.

"Playing a side like England where they have had a lot of time together, it really shows in a game," she said.

Finding ways to get the team together more often will be a goal ahead of the 2025 tournament. The Ravens basically had a couple of camps and an East-West trials game ahead of this tournament. Club rugby league is limited.

Hindley had a "once-in-a-lifetime" moment to remember after the England game when she met the Duchess of Cambridge, who earlier this year took over from Prince Harry, her brother-in-law, as patron of English rugby.

"She's genuinely interested in the sport and women's sports," said Hindley.

Like most of her teammates, Hindley put her life on hold to compete for Canada. The 30-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., who has a degree in biology from UBC and master's in ecological restoration from SFU, is a biologist with WSP Golder, an engineering and environmental consulting company.

"It's definitely a busy job," she said. "I do a lot of field work in the summers, analyzing date and writing reports in the winter. But my company was really supportive of me coming over and playing."

No stranger to the outdoors, she served as a wildfire firefighter in B.C. in the summer while doing her master's.

"Sometimes the most exciting job, sometimes the most boring job," she said with a laugh.

A utility back turned flanker in rugby union, she has been primarily playing in the second row for the Ravens. Hindley's parents, her sister and her partner, and Hindley's partner have all come to England to cheer her on.

Hindley started rugby at 15, when Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School in Guelph, Ont., launched a team.

She went on to become an all-Canadian in rugby at UBC and represented Canada at the 2012 FISU world university rugby sevens championships in Brive, France.

Hindley tried rugby league at the suggestion of some friends, who were trying to make the 2107 World Cup team. The demands of her master's degree delayed her introduction to the sport but she went on the Ravens tour of Serbia in 2019.

She subsequently moved to Australia in November 2019 to continue her rugby league education with the North Sydney Bears. She trained through pre-season and got into two trial matches and one league game before the pandemic shut down play.

She flew home on the last direct flight between Australia and Canada.

"I was the person on the (North Sydney) team who knew nothing but was surrounded by so many experienced players helping me learn and develop," she said. "This is different than in Canada where I’m considered one of the more experienced players now and we all only have so much game experience that we’re trying to figure it out together with guidance from the coaching staff."

Back home, she captains rugby union's Burnaby Lake team and also plays rugby league for the Vancouver Dragons, although rugby league games are hard to come by in Canada given the sport's modest presence.

Rugby league is the less popular rugby code, played mainly in Australia, England and New Zealand. Rugby league teams are 13 a side, compared to 15 for rugby union, with the team with the ball given six attempts to move it up the field.

A try in rugby league is worth four points, compared to five for union.

In 2017 the Canadian women defeated Papua New Guinea to record their first-ever international win and reached the semifinals in their first trip to the World Cup. It was a six-team field then, compared to eight this time with the addition of Brazil and France.

Canada scrum half Sab McDaid has already left a mark at this tournament.

According to organizers, the 28-year-old from Toronto is believed to be the first out non-binary player to compete at the Rugby League World Cup.

“It's a really big privilege to be the first non-binary player at a Rugby League World Cup," they are quoted on the tournament website. "However, I didn't come into playing rugby league to be the first of anything, I just fell in love with the game and in love with my team. I just want to continue playing and having fun and learning as a player.

"I came out earlier this year, so it's a little new but it just felt like the right time to tell the world … I want to live as my authentic self and just be the best person I can be."

McDaid was also a member of Canada's 2017 tournament team.

Canada's Quinn — who goes by one name — is believed to be the first openly transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic medal, helping the women soccer's team to gold in Tokyo last year.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press