Salt Lake City

As RugbyLeaguePlanet reported exclusively in March, the very first interstate game between California and Utah is set to be played at the end of May.

The date and venue for the match to be played in Utah have yet to be finalized, although Utah Rugby League has confirmed that it is in discussions with a municipal government to find a ground at which to play the game.

The matchup was conceived in late March when California Rugby League (CRL) staged a series of exhibition games in the San Francisco Bay Area. CRL director Tom Stevenson met with Utah Rugby League chief Richard Fale and they agreed on playing an interstate game.

The CRL has been around since late 2019 and had planned to start its new competition in 2020, but COVID-19 forced a postponement. The league is now looking at kicking off in June or July this year.

As for Utah, rugby union has had a decent footprint in the state for some years with the code part of sports programs at high schools and colleges.

Rugby League had its beginnings there in 2012 when the Utah Avalanche was formed by the American National Rugby League (AMNRL). At the time, it was part of the AMNRL’s Southwestern expansion Conference.

In that year, the Avalanche played a two-game, cross-border club challenge series with Canadian side the BC Bulldogs.

Nothing much has happened since then as the AMNRL ceased to be the national governing body not long afterwards, but this year, Utah Rugby League has initiated a youth program that currently has about 350 youth members. By the fall, membership is expected to exceed 500. Currently, the league is in the process of bringing in six high schools and four collegiate programs.

So, what about picking a Utah team to play California? How does that work when rugby league is a fledgling sport in the state? Well, it shouldn’t be a huge problem, according to Fale.

“The supply of talent that is familiar and experienced in the game is not an issue,” he told RLP. “The players will be mostly sourced from the Pacific Island community that grew up playing the game in Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

“We will be behind California as far as recent experience and having a number of teams to play against but that will change shortly.”

Fale said even though it will start behind the eight ball, the Utah team expects to make a game of it, if not more.

“The side will be competitive although a little rusty as everyone revives their rugby league skills,” he added.

“The expectation from the game with California is to gauge the appetite and interest of the athletic talent here to play the game, also to establish an annual game to be played over the next three years.”

And in line with that, Fale said the discussions he is having at the local government level are geared towards the future.

“There are multiple venues that we have identified as potential homes for the game,” he said. “We are already in negotiations with a municipal government here to establish a permanent home for the game and to serve as a future center for plans that we have in place.”

Brian Lowe
Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others.