You will struggle to find someone more passionate about growing the sport of rugby league than Monte Gaddis.
The 29-year-old’s rugby league journey is different than most, having grown up chasing his dream of playing in the NFL.
Gaddis started playing rugby league in 2016, when he was asked by Adam Fogarty to attend trials at Toronto Wolfpack, who were forming a team ahead of their inaugural season the following year.
The American missed out on gaining a professional contract with the Canadian club, but spent time in the UK with Yorkshire community club Shaw Cross Sharks where he continued to learn his rugby league trade.
Gaddis then enjoyed a spell in Serbia with Red Star Belgrade before returning home to form Cleveland Rugby League, which was launched in 2018.
Alongside Toronto and Ottawa Aces, Cleveland will take part in the new North American Rugby League competition which gets underway in June.
Gaddis said: “I really think it was time the USA and Canada came together and had their own competition. I’m an advocate of trying to make the game grow bigger and I’m just here to grow the game and keep it growing.
“I’m 29 and I’m finally able to play at home, so I’m just trying to finish my career out of this. I really want this to be the league that pops off in America. It has been a success already because people all over the world are asking what Cleveland Rugby League is. We are just growing the game the best we can and are making sure we can control everything we can control.
“2021 is the perfect time to grow the game of rugby league. In my opinion I feel like America has some of the top athletes for track, American football, basketball and wrestling – I feel like those guys could convert over.
“I feel like this is the time you are going to see the largest amount of rugby league players in the USA.”
Cleveland have already appointed former Dewsbury coach Glenn Morrison as their director of rugby, with the Australian bringing a wealth of playing and coaching experience to the States.
Gaddis also helps coach the team, who play in Ohio, and revealed the majority of their players are completely new to the game.
He said: “90% of my players have rugby union backgrounds. It is not about me saying ‘forget about rugby union, learn about rugby league’.
“It all starts with a game of touch rugby league style and once they get a liking to it, that’s it. It was like with me, I got the rugby league jitterbug. It is addictive, so it is not about me saying ‘do this, do that’.
“They come and play and they love it and might say ‘hey, I might just put these union boots down and it’s time to pick up the league boots’. It is just a rugby league jitterbug.
“I’m doing my thing in Cleveland but I would love to get over to the UK to meet people. I’ve got a lot of supporters in the UK, especially at a lot of youth clubs where I did training skills with. I would love to come back and do a tour to all the youth clubs and go around and talk to the fans.”
The NARL will be a 14-team competition that will play its first round of games on the weekend of June 19-20 in Brooklyn and Las Vegas. Cleveland will play in the East Coast Conference.