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North America is the future of rugby league

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TheBrain new author
Roar Rookie
16th April, 2019
8

Last week, the vast majority of clubs from the Rugby Football League in England voted in favour of admitting two new North American clubs to the RFL next year.

Those two clubs will be from New York City and Ottawa.

Ottawa are a relocation of RFL member club Hemel Stags, so they are considered an RFL member club.

Further due diligence is currently being done by the RFL to make sure both the clubs are ready to go for next season. A 2021 start has also been floated should all boxes not be ticked.

The next question is where should the RFL expand next, and where their priorities should lie.

The RFL have had bid approaches from Blackpool, Belgrade, Dublin, Liverpool and other North American cities like Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

If I was at the RFL, I would be looking next at expansion teams within the British Isles – specifically Ireland and Scotland, as rugby league there is very small.

Ben Kavanagh

Scotland competed at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. (NRLPhotos/Scott Davis)

Most NRL fans know Irishman Brian Carney, who played on the wing for Newcastle in 2006 as well as Wigan and Great Britain. Carney now does commentary for Sky Sports.

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Having teams in Ireland and Scotland would mean that the RFL has professional teams covering the whole of the British Isles. This makes sense commercially, and could help the code gain national coverage in the UK.

The other promising bid is from Serbian club Red Star Belgrade, but the RFL have stated that it may be best for them to continue developing the Balkan Super League to a professional level.

The Balkan comp involves 14 amateur clubs across eight nations. This makes sense – the RFL can only handle so many overseas clubs.

Other options for future European bids would be to join the French Elite One Championship, which is made up of places like Avignon, Carcassonne and Lezignan in the south of France.

There are clubs in the second-division Elite Two from cities like Lyon and Toulon, and lower-level amateur rugby league has a small presence in places like Paris and Montpellier, which are both aiming for inclusion in the Elite One competition next year.

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Joining those competitions will help rugby league commercially, make the sport more appealing across Europe and open up new TV deals and markets.

Rugby league fans should not close the door on expansion and open their eyes to the bigger picture and support rugby league around the globe.

There is not much to lose except for a lost opportunity.

In the past, we have seen failed RFL expansion clubs like the Celtic Crusaders and Paris St Germain, but that should remain a lesson and a reminder to make sure clubs are well managed.

Whatever the case, let’s hope the RFL get these two new clubs going before receiving future bids from unique places around the globe that will help the sport grow and bring it to the masses.

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