By Brian Lowe, Date: 16/11/17 (Photo Credit: NRL Photos)
The USA’s Rugby League World Cup is over. The Hawks have packed their bags and are headed for home after failing to make it out of the Pool stages.
Unlike their RLWC2013 predecessors, who got to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 record, this squad didn’t win a game finishing the tournament 0-3.
An honest assessment of the 2017 team is that the players performed about as well as they could have been expected to. They gave it their best shot, but it wasn’t, and never was going to be, enough to beat other teams stacked with fulltime professional players.
Another major difference this time was that the US had a much tougher draw than that of the 2013 Tomahawks having to face Fiji, Italy and Papua New Guinea. Four years ago, the United States played Cook Islands, Wales and Scotland.
Fiji was loaded with NRL talent and that showed in the opening 58-12 scoreline. The Italians also had NRL’ers in their squad and they blanked the Hawks 46-0, while PNG inflicted the heaviest defeat on the USA at 64-0 and you guessed it, they too had NRL guys on their team.
For the less mathematically inclined, that adds up to a whopping -156 points differential, the worst of any team at #RLWC2017. And in case you’re in any doubt, that’s not good.
And unlike the 2013 team, this one didn’t include any current NRL or Super League players.
Three members of the squad had previously played in the NRL, but Junior Vaivai, Eddy Pettybourne and Bureta Faraimo have recently been playing in the next tier down.
Most of the remainder of the squad either play in the USA Rugby League’s (USARL) domestic competition, or in Australia’s feeder competitions, while three ply their trade in the UK’s Kingstone Press Championship.
In a move designed to improve a country’s ability to pick the most competitive team it can, the Rugby League International Federation tweaked the eligibility rule some time ago to enable players who aren’t selected by the big three – Australia, England, New Zealand – to opt to play for a Tier 2 country that they qualify for either by birth, a parent’s birth or residency.
In order to optimize that rule, it’s incumbent upon players and national selectors alike to do their due diligence to find out who is eligible for who. Note how that rule change benefited Tonga with the likes of Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and David Fusitu’a all electing to play for the Mate Ma’a.
The USA’s 2013 team included NRL players Joseph and Junior Paulo, both of whom played for Samoa this time, Clint Newton and Joel Luani, plus Super League player Ryan McGoldrick and ex-NRL player Matt Petersen.
Another factor to consider when evaluating the Hawks’ results is the USARL’s selection philosophy. Unlike the previous national governing body, the current administrators have put a heavier emphasis on fostering domestic-based players. They want to build a legacy.
During this RLWC, USA head coach Brian McDermott said he buys into that philosophy.
“Going well in this competition was on a list of objectives,” he said. “At the end of it, USA rugby league is in far better shape than what it was when it went in and that’s not necessarily reliant on scores or winning games.
“At some stage if we’re hopeful that the game is going to grow in America, you have to bite the bullet and say well let’s just throw a lot of guys in there and let them experience it.
“Some of these boys are going to go back to American shores and say this is what rugby league is like, this is the culture, this is the environment, this is how to train, this is what it’s like at the sharpest, hardest level. The only way you can do it is by playing them.”
And true to his word, play them he did.
Guys who fell into that category included Nick Newlin, Hiko Malu (Atlanta Rhinos), Andrew Kneisly, Gabe Farley (Philadelphia Fight), Martwain Johnson (Delaware Black Foxes), Josh Rice (New York Knights), David Ulch (Tampa Mayhem), Taylor Alley (Central Florida Warriors) and CJ Cortalano (White Plains Wombats).
So, what of that, what will the players take back with them?
Ryan Burroughs plays for the Toronto Wolfpack and while he’s not directly involved in the USARL competition, he is one of the homegrown Americans on the Hawks’ team and says they will benefit from the experience.
“We’re going to take the positives out of this and move forward with it,” he said.
Burroughs also points out there were some similarities with what he has encountered playing for Toronto which will be useful for those returning to the domestic competition.
“I felt the game speed wasn’t much different. The teams were strong and powerful, and I’m not really used to that, but the game speed itself was pretty similar.”
Whether they realize it or not, or even like it or not, the USARL will be relying on the players to build a legacy with an eye on the 2021 World Cup, and perhaps more importantly, RLWC 2025 to be co-hosted by the US and Canada.