An unusual mix of players is being brought together to develop a Rugby League presence in uncharted territory in the Netherlands.
With no other Dutch Rugby League side playing out of the Eastern parts of the Netherlands, ambitious Zwolle Wolves have recently become the fifth side to join the powerful Netherlands competition with a female twist.
The Wolves are gearing up in season 2020 having been busy in the off season in recruiting some prized catches including a number of Dutch internationals.
With the Wolves having already signed former Amsterdam Cobras grand final duo Reno Haverkamp and Niels Frelink, they have made tremendous groundwork in such a short time in making their presence known.
Captain/coach Laury Renac is philosophical that the Wolves can press hard in competing against other topflight clubs in the Amsterdam Cobras and Harderwijk Dolphins to mention but a few.
These are exciting times in Netherlands Rugby League.
Renac of French heritage has an unusual background having plied his trade in the Netherlands for the past four years with the Amsterdam Cobras and previously having played rugby union in France with a side order of playing league in Sweden.
“I was born in Toulouse and come from a rugby union background having played union back home in France.
“I first became involved with Rugby League in Sweden with the Skåne Crusaders 6 years ago after studying at University over there.
“However, I’ve been playing Rugby League in the Netherlands for the past four years with the Amsterdam Cobras and now I’ve become the inaugural captain coach of the Zwolle Wolves.
“It’s an exciting time for the Wolves in that we are the only club now to be playing out of the east with all other clubs playing out of the west.”
The Wolves have made their inaugural season intentions clear by assembling a squad they believe can go the distance.
“Our Cobra recruits are a massive boost to the club bringing invaluable experience to the largely novice Wolves players we have in our side.
“We don’t have a lot of league players in our team, we’ve mainly recruited from Zwolle rugby union and other parts of the Netherlands to field a side.
“At present we have about 25 registered players on our books.
“We are going to ramp up our recruitment as the year unfolds and if we have a good season, we may attract more league-based players to help build our club.
“With Reno and Neils coming to the Wolves, they will bring a wealth of knowledge to our side and will show the younger inexperienced players the way as the season progresses.”
The Wolves have also announced a partnership with Rugby Club Zwolle which will allow them to share clubhouse and field facilities something Renac is excited about.
“We have some of the best facilities at Zwolle rugby union club to train out of, it will help build our players into a solid unit.”
The Wolves have one of the most intriguing sides in the competition littered with a roster of players from all walks of life.
The most notable figure at the Wolves is female Rugby League player Stephanie Van Dipene.
Van Dipene is one of the 25 players signed up to play for the club in 2020 with another interesting player in PNG born Benjamin Van Bodegraven, who is now a Dutch resident.
“Yes, we are thrilled to have Stephanie and Ben as members of our side.
“Stephanie was originally playing for Harderwijk Dolphins but has moved across to us with Ben who is also formerly with the Dolphins.
“We are proud to say that Stephanie is the only female Rugby League player involved in the men’s competition in the Netherlands.
“The best thing about Stephanie is that she is incredibly passionate about Rugby League, so much so, that she is also a member of the Netherlands Rugby League Board.”
Having played for the Dutch national side, Van Bodegraven is going to be one to watch in season 2020.
“Ben is a strong guy to have in our side also.
“He has played for the Dutch national side and brings with him a wealth of experience having played for the Haderwijk Dolphins as well.
“Ben is basically one of 8 players including myself who have played Rugby League before, with the rest being all rugby union guys.
“Our own board members at the Wolves are also working hard behind the scenes with Daan Van Rooijen and Australian Neville Andrews flying the flag for us.
“Guys like Daan and Neville are great people to have around any Rugby League club.”
The Wolves will also boast another international in Joran Schoenmaker who has worn the Dutch national jersey and will also assist with the coaching duties alongside Renac.
“Yes, Joran is great to have assisting with the coaching side of things.
“Having played for the national side, he is incredibly laser focused when it comes to getting the best out of players.
“I’m hopeful that with myself and Joran, we can build a strong team with the players we have and be competitive throughout the season.
“We want to build a side that can go the distance with clubs that have been around a lot longer than we have, but at the same time have some fun along the way.”
The Wolves first assignment in 2020 was to have been participating in the Rotterdam 9’s competition in April something that Renac was excited about, but the Coronavirus pandemic has brought everything to a sudden halt.
Sadly, everywhere the future is more uncertain now.
This feature was first published in Rugby League World, Issue 468, April 2020