Those who are regular followers of League Express and TotalRL.com’s social media feeds will have noted an interesting story over the weekend. It wasn’t that Castleford Tigers once again defied the odds to reach the Challenge Cup final – it was an interesting tale from international Rugby League.
The USA were arguably the biggest success story of last year’s World Cup, with the Tomahawks grabbing plenty of headlines on their way to an unlikely quarter-final appearance. And they played their part in another success story at the weekend, as they competed against ‘local’ rivals Canada in front of a crowd of over 7,000 people. For a duo of nations that have very little recent history with Rugby League, that is no mean feat.
And in fact, the Tomahawks have drawn similar-sized crowds themselves for games against Canada – and the Canadians also had another 7,000-plus crowd for a game against the US last year. With a continent so vastly sized, people will wonder how it has taken so long – but has Rugby League finally made a significant and lasting impact on the Americas?
The legacy of the USA’s World Cup success remains to be seen, with less than a year since they lit up the world with some fantastic Rugby League. However, the short-term success seems to be plentiful, with the USARL going from strength to strength. The fact there is a split in the country (with the AMNRL still governing the game in America) in terms of two different entities means the US cannot gain full member status from the RLIF, thus meaning they have to qualify for the 2017 World Cup. However, with only one spot from the Americas up for grabs for that event, it’s perhaps a bit of a silver lining that the USA have to qualify through the conventional route.
Think about it; now the USA have to qualify, it means they will be able to put on more games with more interest attached to them. If a Colonial Cup game can draw 7,000 fans into a stadium, how many would a World Cup qualifier pull in? And there isn’t just America and Canada – there’s Jamaica, too. The Jamaicans boast plenty of English-based talent in their national side – with even players like Karl Pryce pulling on the jersey in the past. This triangular group during the qualification process for the 2017 RLWC is arguably the most fascinating of all the groups – and it’s certainly got plenty of potential to impress. Crowds are sure to be big, and it seems like there is a genuine appetite for Rugby League in the Americas, after years of trying.
That high-profile representation for the Jamaican side has allowed the game in Jamaica to grow, and we’re starting to see the same with the USA, too. Mark Offerdahl’s excellent tournament last year initially earned him a contract with North Wales Crusaders – he’ll be pulling on a Bradford Bulls shirt in 2015 after catching the eye of their coach James Lowes. Who knows, perhaps Super League will have some Canadian flair in a few years – and if it does, it’s only going to enhance the reputation of the game across the Atlantic even further.
Oh, and don’t forget about Mexico – who are starting to appear all across the Internet with their events, including a recent 9s tournament that TotalRL had coverage of.
Crowds are being questioned all across the English game – but on the international stage, the game appears to be in the rudest health it has been in for some time.