WRL US v Canada 2022

Photo Credit: Canada Ravens

In the wake of its international debut, the USA Women’s Rugby League (USAWRL) has revealed plans for the program’s immediate and longer-term future.

Those plans involve getting access to a new high-performance centre and potentially hosting a Tri-Nations series.

The program was established in 2019, but mainly due to the pandemic, the USA Redtails had to put off their first international game until last month, when they faced off against the Canada Ravens.

In 2020 and 2021, women interested in trying rugby league played in several combines and some nines tournaments organised by USAWRL, and from there a national train-on squad was put together.

That development squad formed the basis of the Redtails team that played Canada in Vancouver.

One of the major hurdles the USAWRL has faced, not dissimilar to the men’s domestic competition, is the tyranny of distance in the United States. That is a logistical challenge for the fledgling organisation.

“Just the separation of the little pockets of where the game is being played means there is no centralised area pretty much other than Florida,” USAWRL CEO Garen Casey tells Rugby League Planet.

“The whole thing about how we build from here has obviously got to do with playing a lot more, getting more tournaments and clubs playing.”

To that end, USAWRL has signed an eight-year agreement with the US Performance Center, which is to be based in North Carolina. The $1.2 billion project will be accessible to all Olympic sports.

“Basically, it’s a high-performance centre that will give our players the opportunity to learn and grow as athletes, covering their sports nutrition and physical development,” continues Casey.

“Anything that we will need to help us get better. Something that is second nature to the Jillaroos, who have been doing this for about 10 years. Our preparations will now be at that level.”

“It’s going to come down to just play more and put more combines together and giving players more experience. Essentially building a larger pool of players to select from.”

Currently, there are around 280 women involved in USAWRL programs, but as Casey says, not a lot of them are playing regularly. He says that will be addressed by having more combines within easier reach for players distance-wise.

In line with that, USAWRL is planning to stage three nines tournaments later this year on the back end of the sevens season in an effort to build up interest in rugby league. In 2023, the plan is to combine the nines and thirteens seasons into one season.

The focus is now on attracting players of all ages from high school to college to give rugby league a crack.

“We’re trying to get the education level up, and skill-up these girls as quickly as possible because now we’re on the international road map to getting to the World Cup in 2025,” adds Casey.

“We’ve got to pretty much prepare and develop for that with all hands on deck because our goal is to make the World Cup. And to do that, we have to build up our base.”

“We’ve got access to a high-performance centre and it’s amazing what’s going to be developed there. As a team, we’re going to get better, but from the athletes’ point of view, we just need to educate girls on how to play the game.”

“I saw that in our game against Canada. A lot of the things they were doing, they still had that rugby union frame of mind, and you could see the difference with the Ravens players, that they had a rugby league mindset. And that just comes down to experience and having played a lot more.”

The Redtails and Ravens are set to meet for a second game later this summer.

“We are looking at July 16th in either Utah, or Colorado,” says Casey. “It will include the Development teams as well.”

Beyond that, USAWRL is working with its counterparts in Canada and Fiji on establishing a Tri-Nations series to be hosted in Hawaii, potentially from 2023.

The idea is based on the Ohana Cup series that was initiated by the former national governing body, American National Rugby League (AMNRL).

It would be played every two or three years.

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.