View from Penryn in Cornwall
Idylic scenes in Penryn, Cornwall, where professional rugby league will be played from 2022

Cornwall’s sporting landscape has just received a new and unusual addition, in the shape of a professional rugby league club.

Taking its name from the county itself, the newly created outfit will attempt to spread the gospel of the 13-player code right down in the corner of the south west, when they join the third-tier League One in 2022.

The man responsible is founder Eric Perez, who brought Toronto Wolfpack into the rugby league system in 2017 before moving on with the now defunct club on the rise.

After his ambitions to create a second Canadian club in Ottawa were scuppered by Covid-19, he is taking the game to Cornwall instead.

Can the concept succeed? He has belief.

“This is a long-term project, so how people feel about it on day one is of little consequence,” Perez told BBC Sport.

“It’s how they feel about it in 10 years that will tell the story. In 10 years if they say this Cornwall thing is great, we’ve done the job.

“If they say I feel the same way about as I did on day one – negative – we haven’t done the job.

“If it works out, we’ll be right and if it doesn’t then we’ll be wrong. But I don’t think we’ll be wrong.”

‘Cornish first’ is the mantra

Perez is keen to stress he has done his homework on selecting Cornwall over places such as Glasgow and Birmingham, and cites the benefits.

There are fewer sporting distractions during rugby league’s peak summer months and there is an established rugby union tradition in the south west – “once you can handle an oval ball, you’re pretty much there,” is Perez’s take on the possibility of code-switchers adapting to the sport.

Cornish Rebels, the region’s community club, are also on board, while the local pride the Cornish have in their traditions is seen as another strength, the sense of identity which can be seen the length and breadth of the country in, for instance, the displaying of car stickers – and an opportunity to harness that loyalty in their support.

It is similar in some respects to France-based Super League side Catalans Dragons, who have played at Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium as a symbol of Catalan pride.

“The comparison with Catalans Dragons is apt,” Perez continued. “They represent the people of Catalunya on both sides of the Spanish and French border. Along the exact same lines, we want to represent Cornwall.

“Our ethos is ‘Cornish first’, so we want to have Cornish talent, and not just a smattering of players, we want the bulk of our side to be Cornish, to give those players the opportunity to play professional rugby league.

“Cornwall represents more than just a county, we know that. Cornwall has always been more than that and we’re trying to keep that spirit alive.

“It will be a slow burn, but it will be something we start from the beginning. Win, lose or draw, we’ll do it with the Cornish players.”

Catalans Dragons fans at the Nou Camp
Perez hopes Cornish people will display loyalty for their region in the same way Catalans Dragons fans do

Away from the heartlands

Perez is aware that there will be kickback to the decision to put a team in the south west of the country, even in a division which has a wider spread of sides than the upper echelons of the pyramid.

One reasonable criticism of the move would be that League One players, who work part-time and juggle jobs, will have to factor in a trip to Penryn, mostly likely on a Sunday, that will take a whole day.

With both Toulouse and Toronto trips for the League One and Championship clubs to accommodate in recent seasons, as well as Catalans Dragons for those in the top flight, long journeys have become more frequent.

“Is it that long of a way really?” Perez countered. “I think I’ve tried to do some things that were quite a bit longer in terms of a way away. There’s no passport required.

“It’s a beautiful summer destination, and the best part is you’re still in England. You didn’t need a passport and you can drive home after.”

‘The risk is pretty low’

Paris Saint Germain player tries to tackle Jimmy Lowes of Bradford
Paris Saint Germain’s famous blue and red shirts graced Super League for just two seasons before withdrawal

The list of rugby league’s expansion clubs to fall by the wayside from a professional perspective is a growing one, from the examples of Kent Invicta in the 1980s, to Paris Saint Germain in the 1990s and more recently Hemel Stags, Gloucestershire All-Golds and the high-profile demise of the Wolfpack in recent times.

Sceptics will already anticipate Cornwall joining the list, but Perez is convinced it is a low-risk venture.

“It’s a lot bigger risk to go transatlantic, but we’re now putting that money into a venture within England,” he said.

“Anytime you get into something in sport, it’s a risk. But the upsides are huge on this, and the risk is a lot less than some of the things I’ve done in the past.

“The great support we’re going to get from the Rugby Football League, our fellow clubs and everyone in Cornwall, I think the risk is pretty low.

“It’s something that will come good in the end, maybe 20-30 years from now, this will be a landmark day where rugby league truly went national, and a great club was born.”

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