After suffering a serious knee injury ahead of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Australia, Petra Woods put down her boots to serve as Canada’s team manager.
“She did an amazing job,” said Stevi Schnoor, who played for Canada in 2017 and is now on the staff of Canada head coach Mike Castle. “We’re still in awe of how she just took the reins and made everything so seamless… Honestly, she did such an amazing job for the team.”
“Nevertheless, it’s a new World Cup now and she’s had all this time to recover and sort herself out. And she’s ready.”
Five years later, Woods is back with Canada at the eight-nation Women’s Rugby League World Cup in England. The Canada Ravens play Papua New Guinea at Leeds’ Headingley Stadium on Tuesday.
“It’s been a long time coming. I’m very excited,” said Woods, whose partner Natalie Tam is also a Ravens player.
Even longer thanks to the pandemic. The tournament was originally scheduled to start last October.
Canada women sit sixth in the world while Papua New Guinea is No. 4, although the international ranking means small teams like Canada play so rarely.
Woods is scheduled to start at center on Tuesday.
The men’s world championship from 16 countries, which began on October 15, is still ongoing. Canada’s Wolverines, the men’s national team, have yet to qualify for the World Championships.
An eight-team wheelchair competition begins on Thursday.
Rugby league is the 13-player version of the game as opposed to the more commonly played rugby union which has 15 players per team.
It’s a physical game that combines brute force with no lack of strategy.
If the ball carrier is tackled in the league, play is stopped and the team with the ball starts a new attack. Possession of the ball for six tackles or plays. In the sixth game, teams usually choose to kick the ball down to gain territory. If they don’t kick or score on the sixth tackle, the ball passes to the other team.
A try in rugby league is worth four points, compared to five in rugby union.
Like all of her Canadian teammates, Woods came to the game through rugby union. They were an all-Canadian U-Sports second team at York University and represented Canada at U-20 level.
She accidentally got into rugby in the 9th grade at Mayfield Secondary School in Caledon, Ontario. She wanted to try out for the lacrosse team and ended up at the wrong gym.
Woods, who can play wing, center and full-back, credits Toronto Saracens coach Andy Ireland with helping her and other players try their hand at rugby league.
However, rugby union remains the regular game for Ravens players given rugby league’s modest presence in Canada.
Woods’ 2017 Rugby World Cup dream ended in the final trials match in British Columbia when she was injured in a tackle on a touring Australian team.
“Just a random accident,” she recalled. “I’ve made a lot of tackles in my life and I’ve never had that experience. But they landed right on my knee and caused it to jump out of position.”
When she returned to Toronto, doctors told her she tore her anterior and three medial collateral ligaments, as well as the popliteus muscle — which, although small, is an important stabilizing muscle of the knee. An operation was required.
“I was hoping the doctors would have better news,” she said. “It was a very emotional time when I was told I wouldn’t be going to the World Cup as a player.”
Woods, who underwent surgery after returning from the 2017 tournament, said the chance to serve as team manager was both an honor and a relief as she could remain in the squad.
“Being able to see them live was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in my opinion, but now I’ll do it again — in person and on the field with them,” she said.
She helped organize meals, travel and hotels for the team.
Woods was on the sidelines as a young Canadian side – in their first appearance at the tournament – recorded their first international win, defeating Papua New Guinea 22-8 in pool play in the six-team competition. This helped Canada advance to the semifinals, where they were beaten 58-6 by eventual champions Australia, who had defeated the Canadians 88-0 earlier in the tournament.
Woods, 27, who has a trade degree in York, works as an e-commerce customer service manager at Sobeys.
“Time out was not a problem for them. They were very supportive in my game,” she said.
Woods is doing her part to build her game.
In August 2021, she, Tam and fellow Ravens Megan Pakulis and Fedelia Omoghan, along with former U of T player Kaylie Stark, formed Scarborough Rugby Football Club “to bring rugby to a community full of talent and many athletes. “
The women’s team have already earned promotion to the top tier of Ontario Rugby Union after an unbeaten inaugural season.
Pakulis is also a member of the current Ravens roster. Omoghan was part of the 2017 team.
Woods is also the assistant coach of the York University women’s team.
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 29, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press