BY THOMAS ALDERSON
2017 had been a season of rugby league history for the Toronto Wolfpack. After coming into the RFL’s professional third tier competition, having previously not existed, the Wolfpack have grabbed headlines for many different reasons.
The squad is littered with stars from both the northern and southern hemisphere, with former Super League and NRL players setting the platform on the field for what has been a very successful league campaign to date.
However, Paul Rowley’s men have made history not only by their status as the first transatlantic rugby league team but have also been pioneering in opening a gateway to professional rugby league to a new talent pool of players based in North America.
Having just signed Canadian born Quinn Ngawati in the last couple of months, one man who has flown under the radar to take his place in the Wolfpack squad, but whose journey is no less impressive, is forward Joe Eichner’s.
Native to Geneva in New York State, the former baseball enthusiast only took up rugby league in 2010, when studying at the University of North Florida, where he was immediately drawn to the physicality and skill showcased.
Upon the completion of his studies in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in building science, Eichner showed enough talent to climb up the ranks of the sport to semi-professional level, where he spent time at Jacksonville Axemen and then the USA Hawks.
After being scouted by the Wolfpack as part of their North American trials programme, the powerful second rower caught the eye and earned a place on the plane for an England based trial to earn a professional contract with the Canadian based venture, which he was successful in doing, and suddenly saw himself training alongside household names of the game such as Fuifui Moimoi and Craig Hall.
That was by no means the end of the journey to first team for Eichner though, who has endured some ups and downs after relocating to England to pursue a professional rugby league career. Having struggled for game time and having spent time playing for a local amateur team in Brighouse, Eichner’s commitment and good form was finally rewarded with a first team debut at Lamport Stadium against Coventry Bears.
Eichner’s dedication and mental toughness to put in the hard work and commitment needed to fulfil his dream is exactly why he is now running out in Wolfpack colours in Kingstone Press League One. The North American embodies everything Toronto are about and his attitude is shared by the rest of the Wolfpack squad to now see them well on their way to automatic promotion at the first time of asking.
There is no doubt that Eichner will have plenty of contributions between then and now for Toronto, with the chance to play for his native America on the horizon, as they are due to play in the Rugby League World Cup in Australia at the end of this season.