With cold winters, upmost pride in a red and white flag and a humble Rugby League Federation to assist in their development, Canada really feels like home for Emil Borggren.
His actual home is Køge in Denmark but, in 2006, his family made the move from one of the uppermost Northern parts of the world to another.
Now for all of you thinking Rugby League being a ‘Northern game’ stretches to Scandinavia and North America, neither sporting climate incorporates the 13-man code a great deal.
Nor does the actual climate, for that matter, with weather issues from Copenhagen to Toronto regularly restricting sporting activity – there’s a reason Ice Hockey is so popular on both continents.
That hasn’t stopped Emil Borggren, though, a man who went from a complete Rugby League novice, at 18, to an international with both Denmark and Canada, at 24. Not to mention one of the Toronto Wolfpack triallists in their prestigious 2017 ‘Last Tackle’ programme.
An unlikely journey made all the more remarkable by the fact that, during his first taste of rugby union at High School, he had to give up the game all together after suffering from a torn bicep.
That halted promising progress, after selection for various provincial teams and the Canadian Development side, prompting Borggren to return to his homeland to reassess his options. That was when Rugby League came in.
“I went to University specifically to play footy and that was all down the drain in an instant,” he told Total Rugby League.
“The bicep tendon was fully torn, so I went back to Denmark instead to hang out with the family over the summer. I thought I was going to give up footy for good, but it wasn’t long before I was back. There was no getting away from it.
“There was a bunch of Aussies and Brits who were basically upholding the national team and not too many Danish guys, so I started playing union. Some of the guys in my union team played for the national Rugby League team.
“They said they had the Scandinavian Cup a week later so I played for Denmark. I played against Norway first and we won, and against Sweden I scored two tries. It was really fun and I fell in love with league straight away.
“I hadn’t even watched the game and there I was playing an international. Of course, I knew the fundamentals but I caught myself doing things during the game that were union rules. It was all a learning experience for me.”
After coming back to Canada, to help deal with the traumatic experience at university, Borggren decided to continue his Rugby League education. He joined Toronto City Saints and graduated to the national side when he made his debut for Canada in 2017 against Jamaica.
And it was on Jamaican shores where the 25-year-old’s breakthrough would occur, making the final cut for the Toronto side to play a trial game against Brighouse Rangers, also in 2017. Ironically a
place he felt equally at home, in the heartlands of West Yorkshire, reminding him of playing in the various Danish stomping grounds on the Rugby League circuit.
Since then, the centre has become an established member of the national team, and hopes to feature in a World Cup and catch the eye of 2020 League 1 entrants Ottawa Aces, the natural next steps on his Canadian Rugby League journey.
“When I came back to Canada, I played league straight away,” added Borggren, who works in real estate. “I didn’t take a moment to think about it. It was right about that time that the news of Toronto Wolfpack was around. I really wanted to go and try-out, so I played Rugby League.
“When I had my trial, I was very much the new guy. The whole trial system was interesting for me. I got the second chance in Jamaica and then played the game in Brighouse. When we got to Brighouse, you could tell the American guys hated it. For me, it felt like home.
“It was a great experience for me and wow we’ve got the team in Ottawa coming, you’d hope guys like me and the players on the ‘Last Tackle’ would get a crack.
“If you tell a bunch of union guys that they could get a chance to play in League 1 with a guy from Toronto’s squad, who might have spent last week playing with Sonny Bill, they’re going to be pretty easy to convince. We have good talent here, it all comes down to what they want to achieve.
“I don’t see myself stopping for a while, I want to play until I can’t. That’s the dream for me, to have the exposure and play in a World Cup. I’ve told myself that I’ve got things working out for me here.
“Making the move to Australia or the UK, at 25, would be a big shake-up for me. My biggest ambition is playing at the World Cup. I hope to see the World Cup in Canada and the US, like they were going to. Playing at a World Cup over here would be the pinnacle.
“Getting the national exposure with Toronto Wolfpack has been great for me and then representing back Denmark and Canada was an honour. Rugby League has done a lot for me and I certainly owe a lot to the game, so far.”