Perez insists there are ‘no stumbling blocks’ with Ottawa – and hits out at expansion critics

Eric Perez has stressed that while it is not impossible for Ottawa to still enter the league structure in 2020, there is no rush and no worries if they have to wait an extra year.

Speculation is mounting that Perez’s relocation of Hemel Stags may now not be finalised until the start of the 2021 season, something the man himself has conceded to League Express after hinting the issue may lie with the RFL.

“As everyone knows, we’ve been working out contract details with the necessary parties ever since we were approved,” he said. “I think we’re close to the end of it here, and there should be an announcement in the early fall. There’s no stumbling blocks as far as we’re concerned; we’ve been ready to go for eight months.”

When asked about entering in 2020, he said: “It’s still possible, but why rush? We’re down to just one issue with the RFL and we’re hopeful we’re going to solve that shortly.”

Perez has also promised how Ottawa’s approach will be completely different to Toronto’s, with him promising to tap into the Canadian sports market and have a number of converts from other codes such as Canadian Football in his inaugural League 1 squad.

“There’s a lot of guys we can recruit and a lot of up-skilling we can do,” he revealed. “Canadian Football and Rugby League are the most similar sports in the world. We have plenty of time to get some guys from there and make them rugby players. When we move the club to Ottawa and open the market, you will see the effect. One of the biggest advantages of working with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group is you can get higher-level athletes.”

Perez also lashed out at continued criticism over the reported lack of junior development in Canadian Rugby League: calling it ‘rubbish’.

He said: “Those critics don’t know what they’re talking about. There are kids playing, so that’s rubbish. It takes generations; I don’t know too many seven-year-olds ready to play in the Championship, do you? 

“That’s the reason the game is the way it is – people who think like that and have that attitude. You don’t plant a seed in the ground, come back the next day and expect to see a cherry tree appear.

“You need to inspire at the top level and the Wolfpack aren’t there yet, so we haven’t even seen the true effect. I could tell you right now that there’s a resurgence in rugby interest with kids wanting to play.”

He continued: “What also bothers me is people complaining the sport is ‘letting foreign teams in’ and referring to Toronto and Ottawa. If Canada is classed as foreign, then all the people from there who died to defend the UK during the war are being directly insulted. Nothing about this is foreign. This is a market that could revolutionise the game.”

And Perez admitted once everything is finalised regarding a start date for Ottawa, he will conduct a thorough process to appoint a coach. 

“I started speaking to some coaches but this thing dragged out so we put that on hold,” he admitted.

“Very shortly after the negotiations are done, I will engage a few people in the running for it and will have a second round of chats.”