TORONTO â€” The latest member of the Toronto Wolfpack not only wears his heart on his sleeve, it’s in his eyes.
Veteran prop forward Ryan Bailey, known as one of rugby league’s bad boys, has the words “Love” and “Hate” tattooed on his eyelids.
Fans â€” and players â€” either love him or hate him.
“I’ve got a lot of tattoos on my body but that was probably the most painful tattoo I’ve ever had,” he said in his heavy Yorkshire accent.
“I don’t regret it. The fans love to hate me so that’s why I did it â€” for the fans. It’s there for life.”
The 33-year-old Bailey is expected to see action Friday when Toronto (4-0-0) visits the North Wales Crusaders (2-2-0).
Toronto, rugby league’s first transatlantic team, started play this season in the third tier of English competition. It’s looking to win promotion to the second-tier Championship and then the elite Super League, where Bailey has played his entire career.
A fully professional team, the Wolfpack have had little trouble to date against the semi-pro competition in the Kingstone Press League 1.
“They’ve got a good team and a good group of lads who look after each other,” said Bailey, who was released by Warrington after last season. “And Toronto’s on the up.”
Bailey won six Super League championships in 12 years at Leeds and had short stints at Hull Kingston Rovers and Castleford Tigers before joining Warrington Wolves. The former Great Britain and England forward also has three World Club Challenge titles and a Challenge Cup.
Brian Noble, Toronto’s director of rugby and a former decorated coach, calls Bailey “one of the most decorated players in the history of Super League.”
Noble, who had Bailey in his squad in 2004 as Great Britain coach, predicted the athletic six-foot-four 240-pounder will soon become a fan favourite in Toronto.
“I think they will love him. They won’t miss him, that’s for sure, at six foot four and goodness I don’t know how many kilos he is. He’s always had an element of intimidation about him. But when you actually speak to him, he’s like all rugby league players â€” he’s a nice specimen.”
Noble says Bailey’s wealth of experience will only benefit the Wolfpack.
Bailey has long been a powerful aggressive forward, battering his way through opposition tacklers or just getting under their skin. He has also been an enforcer, not afraid to swing away.
Bailey will join forces with 37-year-old prop Fuifui Moimoi, a former Tongan and New Zealand international who at this level remains a six-foot, 242-pound wrecking ball.
“If you walk onto a bus and you want someone to give up their seat to an old lady, they’d give up the seat for those two blokes, don’t worry,” said Noble. “Bailey and Moimoi are clearly going to be a presence.”
“In an era where everybody’s looking for the flashy stuff, they do the tough stuff really well,” he said.
Said Bailey: “I can’t wait to get out there and play with big Fui because you know he plays like me. I think we can cause some damage.”
Bailey did that off the pitch back in 2003 when he was sentenced to nine months detention in a young offenders institution after a street brawl involving several players outside a nightclub.
“I think it was a blessing in disguise … I learned my lesson and did well after that,” he told the Sun newspaper in 2014.
Still, he has long been a polarizing figure in the sport.
“People hate him because he represents that thuggish element of rugby league from yesteryear,” former Leeds teammate Barrie McDermott, a hard man in his own right during his playing days, told the BBC in 2013.
“For the opposition, he’s like a splinter in your finger that you can’t get out.”
After the 2011 Super League grand final, won by Leeds, St. Helens forward Jon Wilkin lambasted Bailey for taunting players.
“I’m embarrassed for him as a human being,” Wilkin said at the time. “He’s playing a man’s game but I’ve never seen such a child play a man’s game before in my life.”
The two England teammates eventually shook hands and buried the hatchet.
Bailey, who signed a two-year deal with the Wolfpack, says he comes across as the “pantomime villain.”
He was just a teenager when he debuted for Leeds after working his way up from the academy. He went on to make more than 300 first-grade appearances for the Rhinos.
Bailey lost his way when he left his hometown club. In 2015, the father of three spent 26 days the Sporting Chance clinic, set up by former Arsenal star Tony Adams, for treatment of depression.
“I’m very open about it. I think it’s good for the players to speak out,” he said. “You can’t live in the dark because it’s not good for your health. If you’ve got problems, you’ve got to speak (to someone) about them. It’s not weakness to speak.
“Hopefully if anyone needs to speak to me about some help, hopefully I can help someone out there and push them in the right direction.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Bailey’s age at 32.