The Ottawa Aces XIII – Canada’s second pro rugby league team

Eric Perez

The Ottawa Aces (the full name is Ottawa Aces XIII) will be the second pro rugby league and third pro rugby team in Canada. They are following in the footsteps of the Toronto Wolfpack and were introduced on Commonwealth Day.

Ottawa will start its season next year in League One, the third tier of the RFL. Similar to the Wolfpack in 2016, the Ottawa Aces aim and their main goal are to be in Super League.

This is the same league the Wolfpack played in 2017. They will travel to England and Wales for road matches next year. Their home games will be at TD Place Stadium, and they will be co-tenants with the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Ottawa RedBlacks and Canadian Premier League’s (CPL) Atlético Ottawa.

Ottawa Aces XIII – Canada’s second rugby league team

The Ottawa Aces colours and the Hemel Stags

The Ottawa Aces have decided to keep with the traditional colours with the red and black, much like the Ottawa RedBlacks and the Ottawa 67s. This is a very different approach to the Toronto Wolfpack as they are the only ones representing Toronto with the black and white.

The Ottawa Aces will keep the history of the Hemel Stags, which started in 2013. The Stags will still exist as they have an amateur team in the English rugby league system.

This article will look at specifically the Ottawa Aces, why they did not choose the Ottawa Stags, and what their player development plan is. People can read about other major storylines not covered in the article or press conference. This includes a potential “Canada Cup” seen in a previous article.

First off, Perez gives a solid explanation for why the new Ottawa rugby league team was not called the Stags.

Reasons for Ottawa not being named the Stags

A lot of the rugby league fans are going to wonder why the team was not called the Ottawa Stags. Perez revealed in the Howlin Hour podcast that it was not about leaving traditions behind. It was more so the message the term “Stags” mean in Canada, that would give people a bad impression in Canada:

“Nothing to do with Stags,” Perez continues. “You should feel good about it, because Stags means something a little different here, yes we refer to animal as Stags, but we also refer to bachelor parties and sex toy stores.”

Having Ottawa keep the name Stags was not practical in Canada as there were too many connotations. It was for the best for the image of rugby league in Canada that the team was not called the Ottawa Stags. They instead went with an entirely new name called the Ottawa Aces XIII.

Player Development

Ottawa Aces plan to have an academy

Besides the team officially being born, the biggest storyline of Monday’s press release was the plan to have an academy. Eric Perez said this on BBC Sport:

“Our plan is to develop a full academy to help players play in the league in general, whether it’s here or across the league.”

This is a huge win for the Canadian rugby league national team. Many of these players in the academy will most likely be Canadians, who will get experience playing the game of rugby league daily.

Even if some of these players do not play for the first team, they will improve the quality of play with the Canadian rugby league team, the “Canada Wolverines”. Players will be developed and inevitably some players will make the team. This model is similar to three MLS teams in Canada.

It will still be a process and may take a while for it to take effect. Also, one should expect the Ottawa Aces to develop players a bit faster than the Toronto Wolfpack. The Aces has looked at players from Carleton University according to Tim Baines of Postmedia.

The Wolfpack currently has one Canadian player named Quinn Ngawati. He has just been signed by the Toronto Wolfpack on Tuesday. Also, on that same day, the Toronto Wolfpack website revealed their partnership with Calgary-based Pro-X Rugby Academy.

However, saying that, some fans are going to be disappointed with the number of Canadians. This is what Perez said about the required patience for Canada to produce its own rugby league players according to BBC rugby league:

“It’s a generational issue, over time we’ll have more and more [players coming through], and we’ll see if we can get Canadians playing in league.”

The Players Will be Signed by the Ottawa Aces Head Coach

The players are likely not to be picked by Perez or the Ottawa Aces ownership group. Perez revealed in the Howlin Hour podcast, that the proposed head coach would pick all the players needed to fill out their roster.

“Make it a bit more like baseball manager. You pick your players, you live and die with your players. No one picks them for you.” Eric Perez then continues, “let him pick his guys because he has to coach them.”

It would not be surprising if Ottawa hires a coach that speaks both English and French. This is because Ottawa is a bilingual city that speaks English and/or French. It is also beside Quebec, which is predominately a French-speaking province.

This leads to the last point, as there are plans to promote the game of rugby league in the province of Quebec, which can be read in this previous article.

Perez also revealed to Brian Thiel of Defend the Den that Ottawa is aiming to get to Super League. However, this will be at a slower pace than the Toronto Wolfpack:

“Yes. More sustainable, slower, more methodical. We think it’s important to get out of League 1 as fast as possible, so we’re going to try and win that league. And we’re going to try and make a real build towards Super League.”

Sports Competition

Lansdowne Park

Since 2014, Ottawa has experienced tremendous growth in professional sports teams. Many of these teams play at Lansdowne Park. Lansdowne Park is a 40-acre urban park, historic sports, exhibition and entertainment facility in Ottawa.

The new and renovated Lansdowne Park came in 2014. That year, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment (OSEG) created two teams with the CFL’s RedBlacks and Ottawa Fury FC at TD Place Stadium. They also own the junior hockey league team the Ottawa 67’s at TD Place Arena in Lansdowne Park.

On February 11, Atlético Ottawa replaced Ottawa Fury FC as Ottawa’s pro soccer team. Ottawa Fury FC played its last year in the USA’s second division, the United Soccer League (USL). Atlético Ottawa will play in Canada’s first division league, the CPL this year.

In addition, two new teams and sports were added to Lansdowne Park. These are the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s (CEBL) Ottawa BlackJacks and now the new Rugby Football League (RFL) team, the Ottawa Aces.

The BlackJacks will play at TD Place Arena in 2020, while the Ottawa Aces will play at TD Place Stadium in 2021. Of the five teams listed above, only the Ottawa 67s play in the winter, meaning there will be a lot of sports competition going on in Ottawa.

Other professional sports teams in Ottawa

There are other sports teams in Ottawa. Most notably, it is Ottawa’s longest-running sports team, the Ottawa Senators, which has existed since 1992. Other sports teams in Ottawa include their ultimate frisbee team the Ottawa Outlaws and their baseball team the Ottawa Champions.

The baseball team faced an uncertain future last year. However, according to James Bagnall of the Ottawa Citizen, the Champions are likely to return to the nation’s capital in 2021. There will be a lot of sports competition for the Ottawa Aces as they try to establish themselves in Canada’s capital.

Overview of the Ottawa Aces XIII

The Ottawa Aces are expected to play their first-ever home game in late March or early April in League One. This will be earlier in the year than the Toronto Wolfpack’s first-ever home game, which took place on May 6th against Oxford RLFC in 2017.

Perez believes the Ottawa Aces and the Toronto Wolfpack are just the starting point rugby league in Canada. On the Howlin Hour Podcast he said this:

“I think 20 years from now, and Sonny Bill Williams will play a role in this, bringing it full circle. Rugby league will be one of the staple sports in Canada, there will be four or five teams in Canada.”

There are already two Canadian cities interested in a rugby league team. According to Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press last year, Perez revealed Montreal and Vancouver are interested in rugby league teams.

The Ottawa Aces will partner with OSEG. OSEG owns the Ottawa RedBlacks, the Ottawa 67’s and plans to co-own Ottawa’s baseball team. The RFL chairman Simon Johnson revealed that all Ottawa games will be live-streamed on the Our League app.


“Main photo credit”

Eric Perez
Eric Perez (second on right) speaks to the media during the launch of the Aces. Credit @ottawaaces.