By Brian Lowe,
As the countdown is now underway for the final qualifying game to determine who will get the very last berth for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC), USA Hawks head coach Sean Rutgerson is acutely aware that his team will need to be at its absolute best if it is to clinch that spot.
The US hosts the Cook Islands in Jacksonville, Florida, on November 16 in what will be the last roll of the dice for both countries.
The Hawks and Kukis had their final meaningful hit outs at last weekend’s inaugural Rugby League World Cup 9s with differing outcomes.
The Cook Islands went 2-1 in their group, while the Americans were kept winless at 0-3 in theirs and while it was the abbreviated version of the game, Rutgerson says there were definitely some valuable take-aways.
“Really happy with our improvement in the second game against Australia,” he says. “What stood out was the level of the three teams we played. It just shows how much work we need to do across the board.”
The Hawks took a surprising 11-4 lead early on before being run down 41-11 by the Kangaroos. That followed a 27-10 loss to Papua New Guinea in their opening game of the tournament. They then dropped a 46-0 shutout to New Zealand in their final match.
Rutgerson says he and his fellow selectors drafted Australia-based rookies for the 9s, including Ronaldo Mulitalo (Cronulla Sharks) and Jay Florimo (The Entrance Tigers), to see how they’d go.
“Brought in a couple of new guys to see if they fit into the group well,” he continues. “Happy with a lot of the guys that played but Ronaldo stood out.
“I saw the Cook Islands and know that we will have to be at our very best to beat them.”
The 16-man squad the US fielded in the 9s is expected to form the basis of the Hawks’ RLWC qualifier team. USA Rugby League (USARL) is expected to name its RLWCQ squad sooner rather than later.
In other news, the USARL’s representatives at the International Rugby League’s (IRL) congress didn’t end up meeting with NRL boss Todd Greenberg. They had wanted to discuss potential expansion of the NRL’s brand in the United States.
Chairman Peter Illfield said the USARL believes there are several unique opportunities that may be of interest to the NRL.
“Some of the opportunities include WatchNRL – scaled commercial distribution (bars, casinos). Also, commercial viewers – areas to improve the NRL broadcast and the FoxLeague product for overseas audiences,” he said.