With many New Zealanders making headlines plying their trades as professional rugby league players overseas little is heard off of the hard working 'ex-pats' who are helping develop the game in countries that don't often feature on the Rugby League radar.In this article we feature the tireless efforts of volunteer Jason Bruygoms who, since leaving our shores nine years ago, has faced many challenges in establishing the 13 man code in the Netherlands.
Jason's own introduction to rugby league wasn't until his family had moved from Wellsford, north of Auckland to Invercargill at the age of 11. Playing mostly school yard footy at lunchtime his first experience in an organised competition was when he was 16 for the He Taua rugby league club where he played centre in the Southland District competition. A move to Christchurch for work saw him play for five years in senior grades in the Canterbury competition, four seasons for Marist Western Suburbs and another for the Shirley rugby league club in the loose forward and second row positions.
Like many young New Zealanders the 'OE' beckoned Jason and having dual citizenship through his Dutch father the country, formerly known as Holland, was a natural place to go. Arriving in Rotterdam and with his Dutch heritage in check, he was approached to play for the Dutch National rugby league team. Jason learned that whilst the national team had been playing internationals against the likes of Scotland, Georgia, Russia and the Czech Republic since 2004 there was no domestic competition in the country. By 2008 the international matches had stopped and Jason was playing rugby union for the first time when he was motivated to do something for rugby league in his new country.
"I wanted people to have the option to be able to play Rugby League. I wanted to play the game I loved and I thought that the only way I can play it and give others the oppurtunity to play it here in the Netherlands is to set it up myself. With the help of some friends and now 6 years later on we are starting to see growth and it's popularity rise."
So in 2009, along with three other team mates from the Dutch national team they formed the Nederlandse Rugby League Bond (NRLB) with Jason as the Chairperson. The NRLB has observer status under the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) who have assisted by funding and conducting Match Official and Coaching courses. We have plans in place that within the next couple years that the NRLB will be a member of the RLEF and Rugby League will be an officially recognized sport in the Netherlands, we beleive that once this is acheived then we have a better chance of receiving funding. The Dutch Government does not recognise Rugby League as an official sport so the NRLB do not receive any funding or financial help via the goverment or local councils as yet.
Like many of RL volunteers in New Zealand Jason wears many hats to drive the development of the game in this soccer-mad country. He is also Chairperson of the Rotterdam Pitbulls RLFC, the development officer of the NRLB, coach and match official facilitator as well as still playing for the national team.
When asked how do you attract new players to the game "This is the hardest thing in starting a sport in a soccer crazed nation, its not easy but the main player pool had previously come from union, but now we are seeing people from sports such as MMA, kick boxers, soccer and even basketball now playing Rugby League. The people that finally try the game actually really enjoy it, but its just getting them to try it out first is the hardest part, but once they do it they just want to play more. From there the game sells itself really."
2015 has been a personal highlight for Jason. "This year is the the year things started becoming official where three Rugby league Clubs were formed, The Rotterdam Pitbulls RLFC, The Amsterdam Cobras Rugby League Club and the Den Haag Knights Rugby League Club. Together with a team from neighbouring Belgium, the North Brussels Gorillas Rugby XIII we played over five weekends. In 2016 we plan to offer clubs a bigger and longer season. Next season we have a new team, the Harderwijk Dolphins, taking part which we hope to be one of many more Rugby League clubs to feature around the country."
"We believe that once we have a good domestic competition then it will be a snowball effect for the National Squad and we will work to be competitive on an International level. First we want to get everything in-house running smoothly and up to standards with steady growth."
The NRLB is presently busy with their Rugby League at schools project, which is being carried out in its second year now by Kane Krlic, the National coach. The schools are all based in the north of the Netherlands and a very successful first year saw 500 children between the ages of 12 - 18 being engaged for the first time with the sport of Rugby League. The target of 1000 children has been set. We would like to expand this to other regions in the Netherlands and also like to include Women's Rugby League in the future.
With the many challenges that lie ahead to achieve their admirable goals we wish Jason and his team all the very best; his final words to readers are:
"If there are people who live in the Netherlands or you know people who live in the Netherlands that may want to be involved in Rugby League in The Netherlands then we would love to hear from them."
Contacts email: email@example.com or Facebook message Nederlandse Rugby League Bond
CRL would like to thank Duane Fyfe for this article - Duane is currently travelling the world and sent this all the way from the deep south Birmingham, Alabama.