North America Rugby League

The North American Rugby League (NARL) has announced that it has cancelled its planned inaugural season.

One of the reasons for that decision was that two of the three people originally appointed to source additional sponsorships for the league pulled out at the eleventh hour. That left a gaping hole in the NARL’s projected financial position.

When it announced its arrival on the scene at the end of March, the NARL said that it would support all 14 teams that were originally listed in the competition totaling $4.2 million. Several weeks into proceedings, the league announced that the entire West Coast Conference, consisting of six teams, wouldn’t happen in 2021.

That left eight teams that would still need to be financed to the tune of $2.4 million. Six in the East Coast Conference and two in a Canadian Conference.

After the two sponsorship appointees withdrew their services, the NARL appointed two new board members, Shan Dassanaike and Paul Kallee-Grover, with a view to helping bring some stability to the new league.

“It’s great to bring Shan and Paul onto our board, they have a great wealth of experience and we’re delighted to have them with us,” NARL COO Rob Curtis said in an official statement at the time.

“Both Paul and Shan share a love of the sport and are dedicated to growing the game across North America and inviting them onto our board was an easy and exciting decision.”

Another reason for the two sponsorship guys pulling out was because they apparently got spooked by the position taken by the national governing body USA Rugby League (USARL). It said the NARL was an unsanctioned league, and as such, any players who competed for teams in that league would not be eligible for selection to the national men’s team, the USA Hawks.

One other significant factor in the decision to cancel the 2021 season was the internal structure on which the league was founded. It was said by some to be somewhat hierarchal, which became apparent was not the right approach.

To its credit, the league’s front office recognized that change was needed in order to make the NARL operate more efficiently.

On top of the financial and internal structural issues, the pandemic has also been a source of logistical problems for the league. Specifically, venues have been reluctant to give rugby league clubs access to grounds as they are still wrestling with crowd capacity limits.

Then there were the challenges of having insurance for players and workers compensation coverage. These became an uphill struggle for the league within the time constraints it found itself confined to.

“What that means for us right now is a little bit of the unknown,” New York Freedom principal CJ Cortalano said in an interview with Rugby League Planet. “We’ve had conversations with other East clubs about actually playing some friendlies this summer, but we don’t know what that looks like.

“It’s completely disappointing, although we remain optimistic about the future and that 2022 has some potential.”

As to whether players who have signed up with NARL teams might instead play for USARL teams this season so that they can get some game time, Cortalano said he thinks that is very unlikely.

NARL team, and former USARL club, Atlanta Rhinos is set to play USARL club Delaware Black Foxes in a ‘friendly’ this Saturday in North Carolina. That game was set up a month ago and was meant to be a warm-up match for the Rhinos.

The 2021 NARL season had been due to kick off on June 19 in Brooklyn, New York.

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.