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USARL Season IV establishes itself as North America's premier rugby league competition

Roar Guru
5th June, 2014
20
1175 Reads

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper proclaims “There’s a new game in town” in a large article on the birth of the Brooklyn Kings rugby league club.

This sets the tone for the kick-off of the 2014 USARL season. Remembering the USARL is a breakaway comp for rugby league in the USA, this season could catapult the organisation into the forefront of leading rugby league in America.

This will be more evident if rumours are true that the governing body AMNRL will not even get its season off the ground this year.

With the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) announcing stringent rules for participation in the next rugby league World Cup, the USARL looks to be in the box seat for recognition as official governing body of the sport.

On paper it will also more likely pass the RLIF’s full-membership criteria, hence allowing and leading participation in the 2017 World Cup for the national side and finally having a proper shot of capitalising on the world stage for the sport.

For novices of US rugby league, the 2014 USARL season IV kicked off last week, with the competition comprising 11 clubs in two conferences. It signifies one of the most ambitious stages of rugby league development in North America.

The competition spans throughout the east-coast from Boston to Tampa, Florida.

The North Conference will see seven clubs in two Regions (North-East and Mid-Atlantic). The conference includes last year’s National Champions, Philadelphia Fight, competing against familiar foes Boston 13s, Baltimore Blues Rhode Island Rebellion, and DC Slayers.

Other teams battling it out include the newly formed Brooklyn Kings and former AMNRL club, Northern Virginia Eagles. Other AMNRL clubs wanted to come over en masse but given the season was only two weeks away from kick off, their request was rejected.

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The Southern Conference includes probably the biggest and most successful US club to date, former champions, Jacksonville Axemen, who will also host the USARL National Championship Final on Saturday, August 23 at the University of North Florida (UNF).

Other clubs include Central Florida Warriors, Tampa Mayhem, and Atlanta Rhinos who have partnered with English Super League giants Leeds.

The exciting features of the USARL season see all clubs playing in respectable facilities, many with capacities of 5-10,000 and garnering respectable to great coverage in local media.

The Jax Axe, as they are affectionately known, bring in crowds of 2-3,000 at times, appear on local radio and TV and have official recognition by the region’s business council and tourism boards.

All clubs have also been successful in harvesting sponsorship from their local communities. Playing rosters are mostly home grown with a few expats from Australia, NZ, Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, Europe and even Latin America, in the mix.

Off-field, the Jacksonville branch of Republic Services, a Fortune 500 organisation publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, is the new sponsor of USARL referees and officials.

Further, clubs like the Rhode Island Rebellion lead the way in junior development for the USARL. They have the American Youth Rugby League Association’s Providence High School Rugby League Competition under their wing.

Along with Boston 13s, they have also launched a four team U23 competition in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island region. Other clubs are now moving quickly into the junior development field, an important cog in furthering the sport in such a competitive market.

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2014 marks a great year for rugby league with additional clubs, many already with decade old histories, certain to join the USARL next year.

The conference system will allow them to lessen their financial burden because of extensive travel, and widen the footprint of rugby league in the United States. A niche presence in the US would be an important piece in the growing international rugby league puzzle.