SMUS' rugby star Quinn Ngawati accepts the Rees Boot after leading his Blue Jags to victory over Oak Bay earlier this season. (Photo -- Kyle Slavin, SMUS athletics)
Feature High School Rugby

Pro rugby career beckons for Ngawati, but first, SMUS’ star wants to help Jags to B.C. three-peat

VICTORIA — Quinn Ngawati knows that every profession, in some manner, requires an extended apprenticeship.

And while Ngawati’s will take him down a distinctly different path than the rest of his graduating Class of 2017 at Victoria’s St. Michaels University School, he is too sensible and grounded to not see things from same traditional vantage point.

“To me, this if the life,” the 17-year-old rugby star explains of his decision to pursue a professional career in the game overseas next season. “Some people grow up wanting to be doctors, or lawyers and that is how they go through planning for their professions. (Playing rugby) is how I have planned out my life.”

More immediate plans for the 6-foot-4, 200 pound Ngawati?

Trying to help his Blue Jags win a third consecutive B.C. Double A championship title when the provincial tournament opens a four-day run May 31 at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium.

In the long-term, however, Ngawati has set a goal of eventually making the first XV of the Toronto WolfPack, the world’s first trans-Atlantic rugby league (13-aside) team, which plays in England’s League 1.

“All of this is definitely exciting,” begins Ngawati, “but it also reminds me of how hard I need to keep working because nothing is 100 per cent set in stone. I have not played a pro game. So I am not getting ahead of myself. Everything to me is just the next objective.”

It’s a mindset which will serve him well when he begins, in earnest, his apprenticeship overseas next season at a club-designated developmental stop. And it’s the same mindset which allowed Ngawati to survive the WolfPack’s extensive tryout process.

Toronto held tryouts in five North American cities and when Ngawati attended the one in Vancouver, the 17-year-old was the youngest of the 50 trialists on hand.

“There were a lot of physical drills, which was an eye-opener,” continued Ngawati. “The tackling was very physical, a step up from where I had been.”

Quinn Ngawati, a signee of the Toronto WolfPack pro rugby league team, has shown versatility in the forwards and backs for SMUS. (Photo — Kyle Slavin, SMUS athletics)

Still, with his skill, size and ceiling all huge pluses, Ngawati made the team’s second-to-last cut of 16 from across North America, and was subsequently flown to England for a week of training with the club’s recently-signed veteran pros.

At the end of that week, only three of the North American trialists were signed, and Ngawati — a mutli-sport kid who also played in the Blue Jags’ basketball team — was one of them.

While it was a huge accomplishment, SMUS head coach Ian Hyde-Lay, a man with an intuitive eye for athletic intangibles, was not surprised that Ngawati survived all the cutdowns to make the squad.

“I am not trying to draw a direct parallel here to Steve,” says Hyde-Lay of his former star pupil Steve Nash, who in addition to his basketball acumen was a terrific rugby and soccer talent through his youth in the provincial capital. “But the one thing that Quinn has that Steve had, is a skill set which allows him to continually adjust to the speed and the physicality at that next level.”

And what a past eight months it’s been for Ngawati, from starring with SMUS, touring Wales recently with the Canada Under-19s as its youngest player and starting centre, thriving with senior men’s club Westshore all through the past fall when he was 17 on a roster of grown men, and of course, making the roster of the WolfPack.

His maturity and respect for the game was certainly honed during his Grade 10 year, when he left SMUS and spent a year in New Zealand at powerhouse Hamilton Boys High.

It wasn’t a random destination, packing up and heading to a global rugby hotbed.

“It has been a place that I have always wanted to head down to,” said Ngawati, who has Maori roots on his father’s side and who still has a huge network of family in the nation down under. “I was lucky enough to take classes that had to do with my own history. I felt right at home with the people.”

Of course he also shared a blood bond with so many.

“My grandparents, my uncles and aunts, and I think I’ve got 14 cousins there.”

So what was the best part for Hyde-Lay in welcoming a superb talent back into the fold at SMUS following a life-defining year spent away from home?

“The thing that I probably liked the most was that he came back,” says Hyde-Lay. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure he was ever going to come back.”

Thankfully, from the Blue Jags perspective, he did. And in the spirit of one objective at a time, Quinn Ngawati’s next is to bring three-peat provincial glory to his high school team before embarking on his professional career.

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