North America Rugby League

The newly formed North American Rugby League (NARL) made a low-key announcement about its arrival via social media on March 31.

The NARL’s website states that it will host a 14-team competition bringing together clubs across the United States and Canada that will play an inaugural season from June through September.

It will be split into three conferences, East (USA), West (USA) and Canada. The East Conference will feature three existing USA Rugby League (USARL) LLC teams including the reigning national champions Brooklyn Kings, Boston 13s and Atlanta Rhinos, as well as teams based in Cleveland, Washington DC and New York.

The West Conference will be made up entirely of teams that currently do not exist with clubs based in Austin, TX, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco.

The Canada Series, as it’s referred to by NARL, will comprise the revitalized Toronto Wolfpack and Ottawa Aces. Toronto of course was recently booted out of the European Super League, while the Ottawa team is penciled in to make its delayed debut in the Rugby Football League’s (RFL) League One in 2022.

It has been reported elsewhere that each of the 14 teams will be paid $300,000 between now and next January. That comes to a grand total of $4.2 million. To date, teams have received installments of $25,000 so a reasonable question to ask would be who is bankrolling NARL?

It has also been reported that Ricky Wilby is the main organizer. Wilby has been the frontman for the New York City Rugby League franchise that first announced plans to join the RFL competitions back in 2017.

Rugby League Planet asked him point blank if he is behind NARL and he suggested that he is not, certainly not in a major way.

“I’ve heard similar. Not quite sure why I’m associated so heavily with it though,” Wilby said.

As mentioned above, all of the teams listed in the West Conference currently don’t exist. It’s believed that California Rugby League (CRL) was initially approached about entering its teams in NARL, but RLP understands that initial discussions didn’t progress very far.

Despite what would appear to be a large degree of uncertainty regarding this new league’s legitimacy, one team that is set to play in the East Conference sees it as an opportunity to develop the game in the United States.

“We decided to join the competition because the exposure from the new league is what we need for the game to grow in my city and state,” Cleveland Rugby League founder Monte Gaddis said in an interview with RLP.

“Rugby league is an untapped market in the USA, and I think this week we are finally tapping into that market. We needed a new shakeup with things here, as it was sort of traditional beforehand. You know, football, basketball and baseball.”

Gaddis said that despite the unknowns of what lies ahead for NARL, his rationale for pursuing it is clear.

“I believe the route we are taking will take us to the promised land of number one growing the game,” he said. “We live in America and we know what sells. We believe this can be something similar to the XFL and what it has done for American football in the States.”

He also firmly believes that NARL will happen.

“Yes, I really do,” Gaddis added. “Truthfully, it’s already off the ground. I think a common misconception with startups is soar or bust and that isn’t my focus. We know that things are bright on the horizon so that’s the pursuit. We don’t see any reason to live in the fog of doubt.”

One other thing of interest is that under International Rugby League (IRL) regulations, a player is not eligible for national team selection if he/she plays in an unsanctioned competition. NARL is not an officially recognized league as it has not been sanctioned by the US Association of Rugby League Inc (USARL), which is the national governing body in America.

And on top of that, the IRL would not endorse NARL if it was not endorsed by USARL, a member of the European Rugby League (ERL).

Strictly speaking, that means that players who compete for teams in NARL would not be eligible for selection to the USA Hawks. Indeed, that is a thorny issue and one more that is yet unresolved.

However, as noted in IRL press statements there is enthusiasm for rugby league to grow and it would be useful for all interested parties to harness that energy for the sport’s common good.

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.