Coquitlam teacher gets another crack at national rugby

Stevi Schnoor’s rugby achievements feels a little like déja-vu all over again. With a twist.

The Coquitlam school teacher earned three caps with Canada’s national women’s team, including an appearance at the 2009 Nation’s Cup, just the second time the prestigious tournament that brings together top teams like England, Wales and the USA, had been staged.

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In November she’ll pull on a red and white rugby jersey once again, at the Women’s Rugby League World Cup.

Again, Schnoor is a bit of a pioneer.

This is the first time Canada will be represented at the world championship tournament for rugby league. The game is a slightly different version of its more widely-known cousin, rugby union, where  Canada finished fifth at its women’s World Cup in Ireland last August.

In rugby league there are only 13 players a side and possession of the ball must change after six tackles. With fewer players and less emphasis on contesting possession of the ball with rucks, league rugby is often regarded as a more free-flowing, physically-demanding version of the sport.

It also requires a different way of thinking, Schnoor said.

“As much as you think rugby is rugby, it’s not,” she said. “The skills are the same, but the strategy is way different. There’s a very large learning curve and it’s still happening.”

Schnoor, who plays club rugby with United and has been coaching the girls team at Gleneagle secondary school for 10 years, thought her high-level playing days were behind her. In fact, for the past five years she’s been playing women’s professional arena football in the Legends Football League that used to be known as the Lingerie Football League.

But when Schnoor heard last year about a plan to assemble a team of Canadian women for the rugby league World Cup, she didn’t hesitate to sign on for one of the regional tryouts that were held last summer across the country.

“It’s just the opportunity to go to the World Cup, that was definitely a big pull for me,” said Schnoor, who never got that chance with the national women’s rugby union side. “I had to take the chance, to kind of finish it all.”

In September, a long list of top players from the regional camps was invited to a training camp in Toronto that included a pair of exhibition matches against a touring team from Australia. From that, coach Mike Castle selected a roster of 23 women who will depart Nov. 6 for 10 days of training and team-building before they play their first match at the World Cup on Nov. 16.

Many of her teammates are familiar from her days as a top rugby union player, Schnoor said. That’s making it easier for everyone to get on the same page as they get familiar with the league game.

“We’ve got some great athletes and we’re learning the game quickly,” she said. “Once we get there and we have some more time together, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

It won’t be easy.

Canada’s first-round match is against New Zealand, who have won the tournament three times since its inception in 2000. They then face Papau-New Guinea on Nov. 19 before concluding pool play against the defending champions, Australia, on Nov. 22. Four of the six teams advance to the semi-finals on Nov. 26 and the final will be played Dec. 2, as part of a double-header with the men’s World Cup final at Brisbane Stadium.

But it’s once the bruises have healed and the roar of the crowds has dissipated the real work begins, Schnoor said. She’s lived through and had a part in the growth of women’s rugby union in Canada, and now she sees an opportunity to grow awareness of rugby league.

“To be able to be one of the first people to do that, and bring some attention to is awesome,” she said.

• Schnoor has set up a gofundme page to help raise money to cover her expenses to get to Australia for the World Cup

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