Mailbox: Why North American league brings a feeling of deja vu

Mailbox gives you the chance to get your voice heard and start the debate with the rugby league audience. Get your letters in now via email to: james@loverugbyleague.com

Dear Editor,

Last year I correctly predicted the demise of the Toronto Wolfpack based on Brian Noble’s exit. I don’t pretend to be Nostradamus; I just look for historical precedent and expect rugby league history to repeat itself. Sadly, the history of rugby league in North America looks likely to repeat itself again.

In 2009, former St. George Dragon David Niu announced the formation of a fully professional rugby league competition in the United States to be known as National Rugby League USA. The existing amateur competition–the AMNRL–was meant to remain intact as a feeder competition. NRLUSA was tied to some big names, including diminutive Kiwi legend Stacey Jones. However, the competition was formally delayed by a year due to the unprecedented difficulties of the “great recession”. But the delayed launch never happened, and the competition never kicked off.

Earlier year, a new fully professional rugby league competition was announced, the North American Rugby League. The existing amateur competition–the USARL, which spun off from the AMNRL in the wake of the NRLUSA’s failure–was not formally included in the plans, but evidently was to run parallel. NARL was tied to big names, including diminutive Kiwi legend Lance Hohaia. However, the competition has been formally delayed by a year due to the unprecedented logistical difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Will the NARL ever actually launch? Or will it simply fail to materialize at all, like the NRLUSA over a decade ago?

To be sure, I am cheering for rugby league to succeed in the Americas. I’d be thrilled, to be honest. But history repeats itself, and I’ve gotten my hopes up before.

Best,

Anxious in America

Editor’s comment: There does seem to be a habit of doing the same things, badly, over and over again. I remember covering the NRLUS and it seemed exciting at the time; as does NARL now. But sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of substance. Limited finances, troubling logistics and simply not a large enough player pool. All these grand plans seem to do is alienate the grassroots of the sport, which is crucial in developing all of the above. Given the history of AMNRL, USARL and the impact on the national team, surely what America needs most is some joined up thinking rather than trying to run before it can walk. That said, developing its own league is at least more logical and legacy providing than haemorrhaging money on nothing but travel and player wages playing in the RFL system.

Mailbox gives you the chance to get your voice heard and start the debate with the rugby league audience. Get your letters in now via email to: james@loverugbyleague.com

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