The 10 best American rugby league players as NRL heads to Las Vegas

Aaron Bower
Joseph Paulo, Ryan Burroughs, Clint Newton USA Alamy

Joseph Paulo (left), Ryan Burroughs (centre) and Clint Newton (right) in action for the USA

With excitement building over the NRL taking their season opener to Las Vegas, we’ve looked at some of greats who have pulled on a USA rugby league jersey.

The new NRL season gets underway this weekend at the 65,000-capacity Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas with a mouth-watering double-header featuring Manly Sea Eagles v South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos.

The American dream appears to be on the horizon for the NRL – but rugby league is no stranger to the States. Here, Love Rugby League looks at some of the greats who have represented the USA in rugby league…

David Niu

Widely acknowledged as the godfather of rugby league in the United States of America, Australian-born Niu began life as a rugby union player before switching to league in the late-1980s.

He has been involved in a number of milestone moments for rugby league in the US, helping develop their national side as well as being one of the key players behind the Super League American concept which launched in the 1990s. Niu has coached the national team on three separate occasions, and has been behind a number of concepts to try and establish a foothold for the sport in the States.

It is safe to say that without Niu, the NRL would arguably not even be preparing for such a historic moment this weekend.

Ryan Burroughs

Ryan Burroughs USA Alamy

Unlike many of his national team compatriots on this list, Burroughs is a bonafide American. Born in Virginia in 1991, Burroughs spent time playing American Football and rugby union before branching out into league. He played for the Northern Virginia Eagles and then went to Australia to play for Wentworthville, before being called up to the USA squad for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

Burroughs was part of the inaugural Toronto Wolfpack squad and later earned moves to English clubs including London Skolars and Barrow Raiders on loan. Internationally, Burroughs has made 10 appearances for the US national team.

MUST READ: Where are they now? The inaugural Toronto Wolfpack squad from 2017

Al Kirkland

A throwback from the pioneering ‘American All Stars’ rugby league team from 1953, a team made up of American college football players that went on the American All Stars tour of Australia and New Zealand. Notably, none of the players had actually played rugby league before heading to the southern hemisphere!

Kirkland returned to Australia in 1956, spending a season playing for Parramatta. He then enjoyed a spell in England with Leeds the following year.

Joseph Paulo

Joseph Paulo USA Alamy

The ball-playing forward was born in New Zealand to a Samoan father and an American Samoan mother, the latter being how he qualifies to represent the United States on the international stage. Paulo, who retired from the professional game at the end of 2022, was eligible to represent five nations internationally – Australia, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa and the United States.

Paulo played in three Rugby League World Cups – two for Samoa and one for the United States. He won 12 caps for Samoa and six for the USA.

The loose forward represented his American Samoan heritage at the 2013 World Cup, playing in all four of their matches, including their quarter-final defeat to tournament winners Australia in Wrexham.

Steele Retchless

Now here’s a blast from the past! Steele Retchless, what a player he was back in the day for London Broncos.

The Brisbane-born forward spent six seasons playing for the Broncos at the start of the Super League era, making 202 appearances for the capital club.

Some might forget he played for the USA on the international stage – but he definitely did, qualifying to represent the States through his grandfather, who was raised in Iowa, and his mother, who was born in Washington DC. His grandfather, Stuart Beck, arrived in Australia from America, captaining his homeland in baseball.

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Mark Offerdahl

Mark Offerdahl USA Alamy

Offerdahl enjoyed a well-travelled rugby league career, playing club rugby in Australia, France, Wales, England and the United States.

The Queenslander is of American heritage through his father, who hailed from Wisconsin, and served in the United States Army.

Offerdahl won 16 caps in total for the USA, representing the nation in the 2013 and 2017 World Cup tournaments.

He actually agreed to take over New York Freedom in a player-coach role for the North American Rugby League’s inaugural season in 2021, but, unfortunately, the league never got going.

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Gary Kerkorian

Kerkorian was another member of the 1953 side that toured Australia and New Zealand.

Kerkorian, who was born in California of Armenian heritage, played half-back on the All Stars tour, demonstrating his prolific goal-kicking ability.

He played in the NFL between 1952 and 1956 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the then Baltimore Colts, who are now known as the Indianapolis Colts. He passed away at the age of 70 in 2000.

Bureta Faraimo

Bureta Faraimo USA Alamy

Faraimo is a familiar face to English rugby league fans, having spent six seasons plying his trade for Hull FC, Castleford Tigers and Doncaster between 2018 and 2023.

The 33-year-old winger was born in New Zealand and qualifies to represent the USA via his family heritage. He played for the US in the 2013 and 2017 World Cups as well as the inaugural World Cup 9s tournament in 2019.

Eddy Pettybourne

Pettybourne is another well-travelled rugby league player, having played club rugby in Australia, England, France and Serbia.

And he also won eight caps for the USA on the international scene as well as making a solitary appearance for Samoa.

The former powerhouse prop, who played for Wigan Warriors in their 2014 World Club Challenge defeat to Sydney Roosters, represented the States at the World Cups in 2013 and 2017.

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Clint Newton

Clint Newton USA Alamy

Another familiar face to Super League, especially Hull KR supporters, is Clint Newton.

The former loose forward is the son of Jackie and Jack Newton, with the latter being a former professional golfer. Clint was born in South Carolina before the family moved back to Newcastle, Australia, where his father was originally from.

Newton, who made 173 appearances in the NRL and 100 for Hull KR, represented his birth nation at the 2013 World Cup, playing in all four of their matches.

Newton is now the chief executive of the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) in Australia.

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