The NPSS Roughnecks rugby team was in Grande Prairie on May 9 for their second league game of the year, and lost a close one to Peace Wapiti Academy, 17-12. The five point loss was a lot better than their lopsided loss to the St. Joe’s Celtics in Fort St. John on May 2.
The game against PWA was played using only 12 players a side instead of the usual 15, because the Grande Prairie team only had 10 players to show up. NPSS had to lend three players to PWA to make the game happen, so there is some solace to take in a losing effort.
The lack of players is an issue that usually plagues the Roughnecks, now in their seventh year as a program. This year, however, 22 kids came out at the beginning of the year, compared to the 13 that played in 2017.
“The amount of players we have this year is refreshing,” said Clayton Woodruff, one of the team’s coaches.
Before the first league game on May 2, NPSS went to St. Joe’s for a rugby sevens tournament, and lost four players for the season to injury. The team has had enough players going forward because of four grade nine players that have come out this season — two each from Bert Bowes and Dr. Kearney.
“The junior players have been our most dedicated, and haven’t missed a single practice,” Woodruff said.
Woodruff said he’s seen the NPSS program go through some ups and downs throughout the years, but thinks things are trending back in the right direction. There were eight returning players this year from 2017, and although he’ll lose eight graduating students after this season, he thinks there will be at least 10 returning students in 2019.
The NPSS team focuses mostly on introductory rugby, as the season is short and many of the players haven’t played before or are unfamiliar with the game. Still, some have gone to play and have success elsewhere.
Woodruff’s son, Tye, played for NPSS and is now playing with the Victoria Island University team in Nanaimo and the Nanimo Hornets men’s team. Tye Woodruff won the Hornets’ award for best reserve back of the 2017-18 season.
The next test for the Roughnecks is a home game on May 16 against Charles Spencer from Grande Prairie, and will need to win if they have a hope of making the playoffs. In fact, the other three teams that NPSS competes against are all from Grande Prairie. Dawson Creek has had a team in the past, but was unable to field a team this year.
Woodruff said the expenses and travel required to compete against B.C. teams such as Prince George and Williams Lake is too great for where the Roughnecks program is at.
“We’re just happy to play here, and are trying to keep the costs down,” said Woodruff.
The game against Charles Spencer begins at 4 p.m. at the upper NPSS field.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.