Rugby league enthusiasts are pressing ahead with plans to go it alone in North America instead of joining the English system.
But for coronavirus and other contributory factors, three North American teams could have been playing in England.
Toronto worked their way up from League 1 to Super League in four years. However, they are now a relic of the North American dream. New York and Ottawa have also abandoned hopes of following in their footsteps.
Ottawa have metamorphosed into Cornwall RLFC. Toronto and New York are among the teams being lined up for the inaugural NARL season in 2022.
Plans to start a 14-team league in 2021 were scuppered by the pandemic. But organisers have announced a scaled-down competition, with Atlanta, Cleveland and Washington DC also involved in fixtures due to take place in the New York City area from May to September.
Yorkshireman Ricky Wilby, who was behind New York’s application to join the Rugby Football League, is heavily involved in the NARL. They say they have three investors from the UK and Ireland waiting to come on board.
The league has enlisted the help of Don Povia, who has worked with the New York Yankees, and former NFL player Keith Bulluck. As ambassadors, they’ve appointed World Rugby Hall of Fame member Phaidra Knight and former NFL running back Kenneth Farrow, who is chairman of the United Football Players Association.
North American Rugby League gaining interest
Farrow’s organisation helps unearth opportunities for post-college footballers who fail to crack the NFL. NARL chief executive Rob Curtis believes this can create a huge supply of talent.
Curtis said: “We sent an email to graduates who played college football between 2017 and 2020. Within the first hour we had 150 expressions of interest.
“So we have a database of guys that are looking for work who have played to a very high level at university here. We have a pipeline of guys who are hungry for work.
“We are trying to build rugby league organically and through avenues and pathways out of the US. Our objective is to build a league that’s going to be competitive within three to five years on a global scale.
“We know there is interest. We had 14 teams lined up last year and had been contacted by 13 other cities in the course of about five weeks expressing an interest in being part of it.
“We’d like to see 24 teams in the next four to five seasons. We think we have the potential to span coast to coast and across all provinces in Canada – Jamaica as well.”
A view to go full-time
Wilby says teams will be allowed one overseas player in the first year. They will be predominantly made up of domestic talent, initially playing as amateurs and semi-professionals on a par with League 1 and the Championship. They have a view to going full-time within five years.
Wilby says the league will have its own streaming platform. Also, he hopes to secure a television deal in time for the start of the season. In addition, Curtis is confident league can hold off any threats from rugby union.
Curtis said: “There is always going to be friction where there’s competition. We like to equate it to Pepsi and Coca Cola. If the two big drinks can co-exist, there is no reason why we can’t also.”
There is the lingering threat of Covid but Povia is confident the league will go ahead.
He said: “Up until last Thursday when the Omicron variant reared its ugly head, I would have said we were 100% confident.
“I think candidly we’re 99% confident that we’ll still able to move forward in the coming year because, even if turns out that fans are not allowed to attend, we know now that all professional leagues have mechanisms and fail-safes in place to have their athletes play in a safe environment.
“We’ll still be ready to launch in the spring.”