Rugby league’s development push will take a significant step next year as it tries to break the USA with the launch of the professional NRL US.
The current competition in the States, the AMNRL, will form the bulk of the players for the ambitious project, which is underway.
Throughout 2009, a series of tryouts will be held to find players suitable for the NRL draft, where 176 players will be selected for eight professional teams with 22 man fulltime playing rosters. The draft is schedules for November 7, with pre-draft camps in October.
And in the coming months, NRL US will announce television partnerships, team owners, team head coaches, team locations and a reality TV series.
But what does this mean for rugby league on the whole?
The Rugby Football League has been responsible for developing the game in this country and beyond in recent years, successfully integrating a French team in to Super League. Live Super League will be played in five countries this season (Scotland, England, Wales, France and Spain).
But an alternative professional competition to SL and the NRL is a must. America is the most interesting choice. While rugby will never be the preferred option to the NFL, NHL, NBA and more, it can become popular. It has similarities to the NFL, whose season only runs from September through to February. There is potential for rugby league to fill the summer void. The plan is to run the season from March 12 to June 11, with the championship final on July 4.
Having another professional league provides yet more opportunities for players. USA will have to rely on English and Australian imports to improve the quality of their league, but what they don’t want to do is become flooded with imports. However, a big name signing here and there, and maybe the NRL US can follow the slow but steady growth of Major League Soccer.
If a suitable model can be developed in the US, maybe other countries will follow suit.
The plans are ambitious. Very ambitious. With the season only a year away, we still do not know where teams will be playing. But if rugby league had more of this ambition, then maybe professional leagues could be established elsewhere.
It will be interesting to see how the NRL US experiment goes, and I wonder if we’ll ever see a competitive US national side on the horizon? Who knows, but the NRL US development is an exciting one.
We will keep you posted on LastTackle.com and you can also visit the NRL US website at www.nrlus.com