Rugby League’s USA adventure

MARTYN SADLER, the editor of League Express, considers the importance of tonight’s Test match between England and New Zealand in Denver, Colorado.

Expansion has always been a dream for a significant number of Rugby League administrators and supporters, for whom the moniker of Rugby League as ‘The Greatest Game’ has always rung true, but with too few people across the world actually wanting to sign up to that mantra.

And when expansion has been tried, all too often it has been unsuccessful, either within countries that already play Rugby League, when the game has tried to widen its regional identity, or beyond those shores.

The only clear example of Rugby League expansion appearing to work well in the last 50 years is represented by the development of the Melbourne Storm, and that has been achieved on the back of a significant financial investment by News Limited, the original owners of the Storm. Of course there is plenty of optimism that Toronto Wolfpack, now in their second year, could follow the Storm’s example.

The ultimate dream of some of those Rugby League pioneers was to develop the game in North America. The 1928 Great Britain tourists returned from Australia and New Zealand via Canada, for example, and split into England and Wales to play two exhibition games in Vancouver and Montreal.

That was followed by a series of ideas and proposals admirably set out by Professor Tony Collins in his article here (//

It culminated in the American All Stars tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1953, in which a squad of American Gridiron players won six and drew two of their 26 tour matches.

Despite all that, the RFL squandered the opportunity to invite them to the 1954 World Cup and the impetus was lost.

So can the Denver Test restore the momentum towards a much stronger presence in North America that will result in a successful 2025 World Cup?

By the end of tonight’s game we should have some insight into whether it can, or whether this is yet another idea that is set to evaporate into the ether.

The signs are that there is considerable awareness in Denver that the game is taking place and the English players have had some high-profile encounters with leading players from Denver’s Major League Baseball team.

A few years ago I wrote an article in Rugby League World magazine suggesting that a Test series between Great Britain and New Zealand should be played at the same time as State of Origin, alternating between the two nations.

I’m glad to see that we are part-way there with that idea, although I wouldn’t then have guessed that such a game would be played in the USA.

I just hope that the organisers have the financial resources to keep investing in the USA even if the financial return from tonight’s game isn’t as great as perhaps they had been hoping for.

Because if we are going to succeed in North America, it’s going to take an awful lot of money and hard work.

Tonight is just the beginning.

A full report and reaction from tonight’s Test match will feature in Monday’s edition of League Express.