Williams Lake native Jake Ilnicki is heading off for another new adventure.
The 24-year-old, who just completed a busy summer with PRO Rugby side San Diego as well as Canada’s senior men’s team, is headed to New Zealand to join the Manawatu Turbos of the Mitre 10 Cup, formerly known as the ITM Cup.
“I am very excited to be here and to play in such a high level of competition,” Ilnicki said. “To play professionally in New Zealand is an opportunity not given to many foreign players.”
Ilnicki isn’t unaccustomed to playing in the southern hemisphere as last year he played in Australia’s National Rugby Championship with the New South Wales Country Eagles. He has also spent time in New Zealand having played two years with the College Rifles and also representing the Auckland Blues U21 side.
Ilnicki helped the San Diego Breakers, which featured fellow Canadians Phil Mackenzie and Hubert Buydens, to a third place finish in the inaugural season of PRO Rugby with a 4-8 record. Ilnicki also started all three of Canada’s RISEAsOne test summer series matches against Japan, Russia and Italy in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto respectively.
“It was an exciting year of rugby, that’s for sure, getting to work with our new head coach Mark and getting involved in Pro Rugby with San Diego,” Ilnicki said. “Playing and training with the national team is always great in terms of progressing myself as a player and there is a lot of attention to detail which is really beneficial to any athlete.
“Playing with the Breakers certainly gave me different opportunities to improve as a player. The team provided a different training atmosphere which was great to develop me physically.”
In New Zealand, Ilnicki gets to play in one of the world’s highest regarded domestic competitions. Featuring 14 teams, the Mitre 10 cup crowns the best side in the country. The Turbos feature a number of other internationally capped players including Samoa’s Kane Thompson as well as the All Blacks’ Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith and Nehe Milner-Skudder.
“There are some really talented players on this team so I’m hoping to learn as much as I can from them to be a better player,” Ilnicki said. “I’ll also be playing against some very well known players so it will be a great test to come up against them.”
Ilnicki isn’t the first Canadian to play in the Mitre 10 Cup as Hubert Buydens (Manawatu), Jason Marshall (Hawke’s Bay) and Adam Kleeberger (Auckland) have all suited up against New Zealand’s best.
“I hope to pave a path for other players to get a chance to come over here and play the same way as Jason and Hubert have done for me with their time here,” Ilnicki said. “Both of those guys gave Canadians a good rep while they were playing here and I certainly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Hubert as he put my name forward to the Turbos.”
The Mitre 10 Cup kicks off this week where Ilnicki and the Turbos will be in action against Northland on August 19.