There has been a late change to the USA Rugby League (USARL) national championship game with one of the teams set to play for the title being ruled ineligible.
The Provo Broncos from the Utah Conference won the Pacific Coast Rugby League (PCRL) championship last weekend by beating the Dead Pelicans of the California Conference 36-12, but they did so with an ineligible player and a bigger roster than allowed and consequently have been ruled out of the national championship.
PCRL board member David Abo says the new league adheres to the USARL’s strict regulations on player registration and the Provo team broke those regulations despite being notified several times that it was in breach of the rules.
He says in the leadup to the PCRL championship game on August 12, the Broncos initially submitted a team list that included two players who were not in compliance with the regulations, however, those players were subsequently swapped out with two others who were registered with the Broncos.
Abo says under PCRL rules, teams are restricted to gameday rosters of 17 players with an 18th as an emergency medical substitute and the Provo club broke that rule as well.
“As the teams were warming up for last weekend’s championship game, it was noticed that Provo had about 20 players warming up so they were notified that they could only field 17 players plus the 18th man, which they acknowledged,” he tells Rugby League Planet.
“They also had a very specific player who we know because he used to live in Los Angeles before moving to Utah, and who we know is registered with a different team in Utah. We advised them before the game kicked off that he wasn’t eligible to play, and they also acknowledged that.
“In the first half it was noticed that the guy who we specifically said was not eligible to play was actually on the field playing.”
Abo says at halftime, PCRL officials again told Provo that the player wasn’t eligible to play, and he was taken off the field.
He says the match video also appears to show that the Broncos played all 20 players that they had brought with them to Santa Rosa despite being advised that they were not allowed to do so.
He says PCRL officials didn’t cancel the game because they wanted to do their due diligence which he says has turned up no evidence of the player in question asking the Broncos to transfer him to their team.
And according to Abo, something else the PCRL did was to make sure that towards the end of the regular season, all teams in the California and Utah conferences were told that they could not use ring-in players from other teams after the two PCRL championship teams had been determined.
“When we were building the PCRL, one of the biggest things we wanted to make sure of was that we are transparent, that we have rules and regulations and a code of conduct so that should things arise that are not in the nature of the game, or not in the nature of growing the game, that we have solutions as to how we manage those situations,” he says.
“We have tried really hard to make sure that all of our players are registered with the USARL so that they are sanctioned and can play for the national team should they be selected.”
Abo says the Provo coach was told on Tuesday that his team would have to forfeit the game and that the Dead Pelicans have been awarded the PCRL championship.
“What we had to do was make the choice that we thought was the right thing for the game, for fairness and for what we’re trying to build here,” he adds. “None of us wanted to do it. It was a horribly difficult decision for everyone involved.
“It came down to do we allow them to go anyway and overlook the fact that they blatantly disregarded the rules? Or do we follow the code of conduct that we put forward? In the end, we had to do what we had to do.”
Utah Rugby League Association (URLA) president George Tupou has reacted to the PCRL’s decision by saying he hopes they can all get past it and can get back to growing rugby league in the United States, particularly on the west coast.
The Santa Rosa Dead Pelicans will face off against the Jacksonville Axemen in the USARL national championship game in Florida on Saturday, August 26.