By Brian Lowe (Photo: houston.culturemap.com)
Hot on the heels of our reports on the establishment of a new rugby league competition in California, comes news of discussions about another new league, this time in Texas.
While the idea is still very much in the formative stages, ideally there would be a four-team competition with clubs based in the major cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio with the new Texas Rugby League kicking off in the summer of 2020.
As things stand now, the four potential new teams have already been given names – Austin Broncos, Dallas Dragons, Houston Sharks and San Antonio Storm.
Texas-based Chris Milledge is the driving force behind the new league in the lone star state. His footballing background includes time with the Houston Sabercats in Major League Rugby and prior to that he played union and league in Byron Bay in northern New South Wales in Australia.
He says his rugby league experiences down under have made him passionate about starting a comp in Texas.
“I think the USARL is doing great things and instead of waiting for those things to happen I want to take the initiative and get the ball rolling,” Milledge enthuses. “I think Texas is the perfect place to start up some league teams with the size of our cities and all the athletes around.
“The US is going through an exciting time with the growth of rugby league. California is starting up their competition on the west coast and I hope that Texas is the next in line for rugby league expansion in the US.”
Milledge goes on to say that depending on interest levels for the first year, a 9s series could kick things off with a stop in each city and a champion being crowned at the end of the four legs. Ideally though, there would be a 13s competition with four teams and six rounds of regular season games, two rounds of playoffs, a championship and possible third place game, and an All-Star game to finish the year.
“If we can get a Texas All-Star team together, we would plan to host or travel to get players and coaches more exposure or experience,” he says.
“Being in the middle of the country we are between two coasts so travelling is a bit easier. We would also like to host other teams to play in Texas, whether that includes other teams in the USARL or teams from Latin America and the Caribbean.
“I have not yet spoken to the USARL about the idea of a league in Texas, but if it can help grow the game in the US and there is interest to add a conference or merge in the future, I’m sure discussions will occur.”
As for recruiting players, Milledge says that rugby union will be a main target given the depth of men’s clubs and colleges that have rugby programs across Texas.
“We plan to host some clinics in each of the four cities in order to get the word out. From those clinics we plan to make everyone aware that a Texas rugby league competition is brewing, and players can sign up to learn more and join the local clubs,” he continues.
“Teams like Jacksonville (Axemen) have great connections to bring players from overseas and I think the idea to offer players that sort of opportunity would be great for the game in terms of competition and development of local players.
“An exchange of players to Texas and players from Texas to overseas would be a future goal we’d be aiming for as well. There are also opportunities to get crossover athletes from local high schools or colleges and develop their knowledge of the game.”
Milledge notes that Texas is known for its high school football programs and overall sporting reputation, so is a great location to recruit players to play rugby league. Touch is also growing in Texas so getting programs into local middle schools or high schools to introduce kids to the sport and develop their skills at an early age would be a goal.
To that end, he says the NRL Touch Premiership format has been a big success and it would be a great tool for recruiting future players.
Of course, the big question of bankrolling the new league is something else that would need to be ironed out before any formal plans are made.
“Looking at what the NRL has done in terms of deals and sponsorships, we would have two categories of funding. One category would be for funding the league and the other category would be team-focused funding,” adds Milledge.
“The opportunity to have a title sponsor and branding for the league would be another avenue to procure funds to support the entire endeavor. The league itself would look for partnerships with companies to help grow and alleviate any financial stresses that may be placed on each club.”
He says teams would also need to secure local sponsorships from companies and individuals in their area for costs unique to their location and team needs.
As we noted at the outset, talk about a new Texas Rugby League is in the very early stages, but Milledge says the plan would be to follow a similar schedule to that of the USARL so games would take place over the course of the summer months starting 12 months from now.
Anyone wanting to get involved or find out more about the Texas Rugby League can contact Milledge through the league’s Facebook page: Texas Rugby League, or via its Twitter account @TexRugbyLeague
Each team can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.