Former USA international Clint Newton believes that the establishment of a professional rugby league presence in North America is exactly what the sport needs.
Newton, who is chair of the Rugby League Players Association in Australia, believes that the Toronto Wolfpack could be the harbingers of a new era for the sport.
With plans also afoot for a professional team in Florida at some time over the next five to 10 years, Newton believes that the USA and Canada is a new frontier in which rugby league needs to stake a claim.
“I think it’s a huge positive,” Newton told Love Rugby League.
“It’s certainly one of the real positives that the game is making in the northern hemisphere, to engage with Toronto and Eric Perez, Brian Noble and everyone else that’s involved with the Wolfpack.
“To invest in it, to stump up the sort of money that’s needed to run a successful franchise, and to take on some uncharted waters – you have got to tip your hat to them.
“If the game is going to be sustainable longterm, we need to engage a different market.
“That market is the USA and Canada, in my humble opinion, because it is arguably the closest sport to NFL.
“I believe it’s a much easier game to understand than rugby union.
“I think we’ve got a great opportunity to leverage off any success that Toronto have.”
Although Newton is optimistic about the Wolfpack, he stresses that the momentum they have generated must be maintained, especially on their home continent.
He also believes that the RLPA model of collaboration between the game’s stakeholders could be of use in building the game across the Atlantic.
“Whilst at the moment, they’re getting exposure, the key is going to be getting exposure in Canada, and in the USA,” he added.
“Again, it comes back to the RLIF to actually work collaboratively with all the stakeholders, including the players, to say, ‘How can we work together to grow this game?’
“Because at the moment, if you don’t engage with the players, you’re not engaging with the most important part of it.
“I think that’s really crucial. We’re still yet to do that.
“The RLIF hasn’t really engaged with the players collectively, and there’s hopefully going to be a great opporuntity in the near future to do that.
“We can help to ensure that the game does go into a new market, and make it financially sustainable longterm.
“Because whenever you go to the same well all the time, which seems to be Australia, New Zealand and, to a smaller degree, England, the game hasn’t broken the back of any other code.
“With where we’re going with our collective bargaining agreement in Australia, my fear is that the UK will become just a pit stop for those who are wanting to progress to the NRL, and that’s going to cause a bit of a player drain from this competition.
“I read some stuff from Roger Draper [Super League executive director) recently, where he said he wants to make the game a ‘Super League’, in terms of what the title actually says.
“But, whilst there are still issues about how many games they’re playing over here, you are going to dilute the competitions’s talent, with players getting injured.
“I really hope that Toronto goes well. So far, they’re breaking some new ground and they’re getting some really good exposure.
“I hope that it continues, and the international game can grow.”