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Knights rugby marching into promising future

IMAGE. The Fort McMurray Knights mens rugby team begins postseason play against the Parkland Sharks in the semi-final of the Edmonton Rugby Union championship. Supplied by Fort McMurray Knights RFC/Facebook.

The Fort McMurray Knights Rugby Football Club hit the road contending for a championship.

The senior men’s team visit the Parkland Sharks in the semifinals for the Edmonton Rugby Union (ERU) playoffs.

Kick-off is Sept. 14, 2019, at 2:00 p.m. at Edmonton’s Ellerslie Rugby Park.

Knights RFC President Dan Huntley said the squad really came together this year.

“[I’m] super proud of the guys [and] their dedication. A lot of us have been playing together for 10 plus years, [so] this year and next we’re definitely looking for some young blood to come out and start enjoying the game, and keeping the club alive.”

Player-coach Joseph Toatifo leads a team with no shortage of playoff experience.

The Knights were finalists in three of the last five seasons.

Although they couldn’t close the deal, Huntley said this year’s squad should match up well with the Sharks.

“They’re heavy in the forwards, and they’ve got a tough pack, so we just have to adjust our gameplan a little bit.”

Current Sharks president, Julian Gauthier hails from Fort McMurray, and once played for the Knights.

Huntley says while the Sharks are a young team, both have a great relationship.

Camaraderie and community

Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo rallied behind Knights Rugby since the club formed in 1974.

President Dan Huntley said the club made it their mandate to give back to an appreciative community.

“We’ve done a lot of work over the last three years for our minis [program] and juniors. The dedication of our senior members has been amazing, coach Toatifo dedicated so much of his time to building rugby up in the community, [and] our senior women’s team as well. We’ve become quite a little family.”

Huntley said junior development coincides with the annual Rugby Festival.

Started in 2018, it’s a showcase for local talent held at Shell Place.

“We really focus that around the youth and high school teams to build up in the interest in the sport in the community.”

Also, “RugbyFit” gives aspiring athletes an opportunity to tackle a rugby-centred fitness program and even try out for their club teams.

That program runs annually between January and February.

As rugby grows in popularity and scope, Huntley said the Knights seek to keep Wood Buffalo at the forefront.

“It’s been included in the Olympics, we’re seeing professional teams popping up [across Canada], [and] our national women’s team is doing extremely well. I think it’s great opportunity to get ahead of that as a club, and provide opportunities for the youth in Fort McMurray to have an avenue to play at a competitive level.”

Huntley was quick to mention the many businesses across the region that sponsor and support Fort McMurray Knights RFC.

He said the club appreciates their support, particularly for the youth program developing the Knights of the future.

The Knights play their regular-season home games at Westwood Community High School.