Joseph Eichner Joins the Wolfpack
We bid farewell and good luck to Joe Eichner this week as he begins the next phase of his rugby league career with the Toronto Wolfpack. Eichner was offered a professional contract with the Wolfpack after being part of a 18 player trial in England last December. The Toronto Wolfpack are the first professional rugby league team in North America and the first transatlantic professional sports team in history. They begin their 2017 season in the League 1 competition based in the UK.
Let’s back up and give you a little background on Eichner’s journey leading to his professional rugby league career. After playing for the University of North Florida Deadbirds RFC he joined the Jacksonville Axemen for his first season in 2014. He immediately designated himself as a force on the field and the Axemen went undefeated in the regular season, only losing in the National Championship. After this season Eichner was one of 2 USARL players chosen to participate in the Leeds Rhinos preseason training camp in January 2015. He also competed for both sides in the Leeds versus USA Pioneers preseason game. After completing in his final year with the UNF Deadbirds in the Spring of 2015, Eichner suffered a torn ACL early in the Axemen season. This unfortunately also took him out of the 2015 USARL season and any chance of playing with the USA Hawks during the World Cup Qualifiers in December of that same year.
During his recovery and rehabilitation from surgery, Eichner moved to Fort Lauderdale and began a new job as a project engineer for a general contractor. Nevertheless, in May 2016 Eichner was in Jacksonville for the Axemen training camp and looked as if he had never had surgery. He quickly jumped back in where he left off and the Axemen had another great season, only losing in the National Championship game. He was very committed to the team, driving several hours back and forth from Fort Lauderdale to play every weekend. After his return to playing rugby league Eichner also played for the USA Hawks in the 2016 Colonial Cup series, which the Hawks won over Canada.
Eichner got his first chance to catch the eye of Wolfpack scouts when he played in the North vs South Conference All-star game in Tampa on Oct 22, 2016. The South beat the North 38-32. The next day he participated in the Toronto Wolfpack South Open Trials and from the multiple open tryouts the Wolfpack held, he was chosen as one of the 18 finalist to compete for a professional contract. After two weeks training with the Wolfpack where they are based in the England, Eichner was one of only 3 at the time, now 4, of the trial participants to be offered a contract.
We caught up with Eichner to learn about his experience and his expectations for the future.
Axemen: How was your experience during the trials with the Toronto Wolfpack in England?
Eichner: “The tryout in England was an amazing experience. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I stepped off the plane but immediately everyone was very welcoming. It was a huge difference from playing rugby league during a Florida summer, I don’t think it got over 40 degrees the whole 10 days we were there. They had us staying in a bunkhouse at a campsite which was a bit crowded at first but everyone quickly became good friends. We trained every morning from 8-10 with some world class coaches and finished out the week with a fantastic win over the Brighouse Rangers. The whole trip was a once in a lifetime experience. It’s hard to explain how good of friends we all became by the end of it. The Toronto Wolfpack did a superb job hosting us!”
Axemen: Was there anything in particular that you learned from your time playing with the Axemen that helped you throughout the tryouts?
Eichner: “Playing with the Axemen over the past couple years helped tremendously. The amount of foreign and domestic talent that comes through Jacksonville really affected every aspect of my game and I believe it showed while I was over there. I think the biggest thing I learned that really stuck with me was being aware of my surroundings. What I mean by that is that I shouldn’t only focus on the ball but keep an eye on where my teammates are, do I have support, is the defender already have his shoulders turned. Obviously the Axemen taught me how to play rugby league as a whole but coaches Matthew Keeley and Ben Nicoll were able to tune the fine the aspects of the game for me.”
Axemen: What do you look forward to most about your new career playing professional rugby league?
Eichner: “I look forward to the challenge of playing at the next level. I’ve always had that question in the back of my mind weighing heavy on me and I’m excited to see what the outcome is. Other than that, I’m looking forward to traveling England and making friends along the way. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Axemen: Any other final thoughts you’d like to tell our Axemen fans?
Eichner: “I just want to thank everyone who has ever come out to a game and cheered us on. The fans create such a great atmosphere that I looked forward to every Saturday during the summer. It’s an amazing feeling to look over and see y’all screaming your heads off. It’s been truly a pleasure to put on a show for y’all. This isn’t the end of my career in Jax, I’ll play for the Axemen again one day and we’re gonna win that trophy!”
What Joe Eichner has accomplished by securing a contract playing professional rugby league for the Toronto Wolfpack is making USA rugby league history. Not only is he one of only two USA players who have been offered professional contracts, (Ryan Burroughs formerly of the Northern VA Eagles will also play for the Wolfpack) but he is the only player to transition to the Wolfpack from only playing in the United States for the USARL.
“Joe being chosen to play for the Wolfpack shows that there is a lot of talent playing domestically in the USARL,” said Drew Slover, Co-Owner and General Manager of the Jacksonville Axemen. “His commitment and hard work over the past few years showed during the trials with the Wolfpack and it is great that a professional team would give our players the opportunity to showcase their talent. We wish Joe all the best and look forward to following him with the Toronto Wolfpack!”
For more information on the Toronto Wolfpack, visit their website at www.torontowolfpack.com.