By Brian Lowe,
American rugby league’s annual North versus South All-Star game is set for the first weekend in September in Tampa, Florida, and it will be the last chance domestic-based players have to press for selection to the national team.
The All-Star matchup is a game played at the end of the domestic season that pits the best from the USA Rugby League (USARL) North Conference against the best from the South Conference and it typically gives national team coaches and selectors one final look at potential call-ups for the USA Hawks squad.
This year, selectors will have two things in particular in mind while scouting the match. First up will be the inaugural World Cup Nines in Sydney in October and then, perhaps more importantly, will be the final 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) qualifying match in November.
The South has yet to lose this annual matchup. Last year, it extended its winning run with a close 28-26 victory over the North. After a slightly shambolic lead up to the match in which organisers struggled to find a host venue, the Philadelphia Fight’s home ground in Conshohocken, PA, was eventually chosen but then the weather added to the complications as the heavens opened up and didn’t relent for the entire 80 minutes of the game.
The 2017 All-Star game, which had been scheduled to be played in Tampa, was called off when Hurricane Irma swept through parts of Florida at the same time.
The South triumphed 38-32 in the 2016 iteration played in Tampa. That was also the year when the Toronto Wolfpack held a simultaneous player combine in the Big Guava in preparation for their 2017 debut in the English League One competition.
And in the inaugural USARL All-Star game in 2015 in Jacksonville, FL, the South won 30-24.
This year, the South is hosting again, and head coach Sean Rutgerson is expecting a good tussle.
“We’ve got a good team lined up for the South,” he says. “The standard of this North-South game is going to be good. We’re playing in Tampa; it’s going to be fully organised and the teams are coming down the day before so we can train on the Friday and play on the Saturday.
“It’s going to be a real good test and a real good game.”
The North will have a new head coach this year with CJ Cortalano stepping into the role vacated by Brent Richardson, who is returning to Australia.
Cortalano brings with him some playing and coaching pedigree. He was in the USA Hawks team at the 2017 RLWC, has played for and coaches the White Plains Wombats in the USARL clubs competition, and has himself been an All-Star.
“I’ve helped choose the side with CJ,” Richardson told RugbyLeaguePlanet, “and we’ve come up with what we think is a pretty good team.”
Tampa Mayhem owner/CEO and USA Hawks team manager Billy Neilson is one of the main organisers of this year’s game and says things are right on track.
“It’s awesome to bring the North vs South game back to Tampa,” he says. “It was a great game the last time we held it here and we are excited to run it back.
“This will be a display of the best players in the USARL.”
The match is set for Saturday, September 7, 2019. Tickets for the game are on sale at the Mayhem’s Facebook events page https://m.facebook.com/events/1437526069745300 as well as through Eventbrite.