USA Hawks will make a second appearance on the biggest stage of International Rugby League
Interest in Rugby League in the United States started in 1939 when the then Californian Rugby Football Union (CRFU) reached out to the Rugby Football League (RFL, England) outlining their desire to switch from Rugby Union and affiliate with the code.
Receiving the request in June that year, the RFL made plans to send out a delegation to the CRFU before the outbreak of World War II ended any chance of the British officials from travelling.
The setback of the war meant that it would take until 1953 before another attempt was made to introduce Rugby League to America. This time it was wrestling promoter Mike Dimitro who organised USA Rugby League team, known as the ‘American All Stars’, to tour Australia and New Zealand.
The 22-man touring squad was made up completely of players who had zero Rugby League experience, however would take part in a 26 game tour across the east coast of Australia and both the North and South Islands of New Zealand.
Despite the side’s lack of Rugby League experience, the All Stars would win their opening game against a Monaro side, 34 – 25, in Canberra. Unfortunately, from there things would only go downhill for the All Stars, with the team only winning another five games from the tour, however they would feature in front of some large crowds, including over 65,000 at the SCG when they took on the Sydney Firsts.
USA’s first official international wouldn’t be until the following year when the side would take on the French national team in Toulouse. At the same time, the USA would bid for the 1960 Rugby League World Cup, but their bid was unsuccessful and interest in the code faded away.
Not much would happen with regards to Rugby League in the States until the 1970’s when Mike Mayer attempted to kick-start a professional competition. Despite Mayer securing franchising rights in 1976 from the RFL, he wasn’t able to secure funding to get his 12-team League up and running.
This didn’t stop Mayer’s enthusiasm for the code, with Mayer taking steps to bring State of Origin to the USA. Whilst Mayer focused on that, an amateur Rugby League competition kicked off in the North East of North America, with three Canadian teams and the New York Adironbacks creating the Tri-Countries Rugby League competition in 1986 which would run until the early 90s.
Mayer’s dream to bring Origin to the USA came true in 1987 when the NSW and Queensland Origin teams made the trek to play in front of over 12,000 fans at Long Beach in California.
He was also involved in helping coordinate the USA’s first international game since the 1950’s that same year (against Canada) and would invite famous Super League clubs, the Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves to play an exhibition game the following year in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The next attempt to kick start a Rugby League competition in the USA took place in the early 90’s when Rugby World TV promoter, John F. Morgan helped establish the American Patriots to take part in the annual World Sevens in Sydney.
Morgan, used his Rugby World show to broadcast the Sevens back into the States, whilst also working with the RFL to establish an annual international clash against Ireland, affectionately known as the ‘St Patrick’s Day clash’.
At the same time, Morgan was leveraging the Patriots brand in Sevens and one-off internationals, former St George Dragons player, David Niu, would move to Philadelphia. Niu, a school teacher at Glen Mills, had started teaching Rugby League to students of what was a juvenile delinquent centre in the Philadelphia region, and would later be contacted by Morgan to assist in building the Patriots.
Niu would join Morgan from 1993 to help build the USA team, before taking over all things Rugby League in the USA by 1996. By 1997, Niu had established ‘Super League America’, the governing body for the country, and by 1998 the first domestic competition kicked off featuring sides from Glen Mills, New York, New Jersey, Boston, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia.
Whilst Boston and Pennsylvania would drop out the following year, Niu’s foundations set the basis for domestic Rugby League in the USA today.
At the same time as the Super League America competition was running, the USA national team (which had now been renamed the Tomahawks) were invited to qualify for the 2000 Rugby League World Cup. The 2000 Qualifier tournament started positively for the Tomahawks with the side recording victories over Canada and Japan before unfortunately being knocked out by eventual qualifiers Lebanon.
After missing out on the main tournament, the USA would take part in the Emerging Nations World Cup where they would finish third after wins over Morocco and Canada.
Back in the States, the domestic competition would undergo a series of restructures and changes in direction, with Super League America becoming the United States Rugby League (USRL) before becoming the American National Rugby League (AMNRL).
During this time the headquarters for the game would jump between Philadelphia and Jacksonville until settling back north where the AMNRL would start to fortify its position in the North-East.
Over the next few years the code would make inroads throughout Connecticut, Fairfax, Pittsburgh and Boston before undergoing its biggest expansion yet in 2006 with the entry of the Jacksonville Axemen.
In that same year, the Tomahawks were given the opportunity to qualify for the 2008 Rugby7 League World Cup, however fell short after drawing a powerful Samoan side in the final rounds of the qualifiers.
By 2011, the USA underwent its own ‘Super League’ war when seven clubs defected from the AMNRL to form the USA Rugby League (USARL) after raising a number of issues in the direction the game was taking in the country and the manner in which the AMNRL was governed.
The split would only last until November 2014 when the AMNRL clubs would join the new USARL organisation. During that time, the domestic competition in the States continued to grow up the East Coast, with teams from nine states now playing in the premier competition.
Despite the turmoil on the domestic scene, the USA Tomahawks qualified for their first ever World Cup in 2013 after defeating Jamaica and South Africa in the tournament qualifiers.
Drawn into Group D, the USA Tomahawks surprised many in their first ever World Cup after recording victories over Wales and the Cook Islands to progress to the tournament quarter-finals. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Tomahawks drew the Kangaroos in their quarter-final at Wrexham (Wales) and would go down 62 - 0.
Following the merger of the AMNRL into the USARL, the Tomahawks would be renamed for a fourth time (following All Stars and Patriots) to the USA Hawks in the lead up to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers.
Despite the name change, the USA team repeated their 2013 Qualifier form to emerge from their pool undefeated and secure their spot at their second World Cup.
The current USA domestic competition is a continuation of the old Super League America domestic competition which started in 1998. Today the USARL Premier competition features fourteen teams from nine states across the East Coast.
The states of New York and Florida are the most heavily represented with three sides a piece, whilst Pennsylvania has two teams. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington DC, Delaware, Virginia and Georgia each have one team.
Sides are broken into three conferences (North East, Mid-Atlantic and Southern), with the best team from the Southern Conference playing the top team from the two Northern conferences in the USARL Championship Final.
The most successful side in the USARL era, the Philadelphia Fight, defeated the Jacksonville Axemen 42 - 20 in the 2016 final to claim their fourth title.
National Team Stats
Colours: White, Blue and Red
Coach: Brian McDermott
First Test: France 31 d. United States 0 - Toulouse, France: January 1954
Best World Cup Result: Quarter-Finals (2013)
David Niu: David Niumataiwalu, or better known as David Niu, was instrumental to the success of Rugby League in the USA. Retiring to Philadelphia after playing for St George, Bradford, Bramley and Villeneuve; Niu would go on to play 36 times for the USA Tomahawks and 8 times for the USA Eagles (National Rugby Union team) in a career that would span 12 years. As instrumental to Rugby League in the USA as Dally Messenger to Australia and Albert Baskerville in New Zealand, Niu laid the foundations for the continued growth USA Rugby League has enjoyed over the past decade.
Clint Newton: Born in South Carolina, Newtown had a professional Rugby League career that would span 15 years and include over 270 First Grade games for the Newcastle Knights, Melbourne Storm, Penrith Panthers and Hull KR. Whilst unfortunately only playing 4 times for the USA national team, Newton arguably is the most successful American born player yet in the code.
Curtis Cunz: A former second rower, Cunz holds the record of being the most capped USA player of all time with over 40 caps for the Red, White and Blue. Cunz was also involved in helping establish the Connecticut Wildcats team which would win four AMNRL titles before folding in 2015.
Daryl Howland: ‘Spinner’ as he is known as in USA Rugby League circles is as famous for his work off the field as on it. Not only did Howland earn 15 caps for the Tomahawks, but would go on to establish Rugby League in the South East of the country. First with the Jacksonville Axemen in 2006 and later with the Atlanta Rhinos, Central Florida Warriors and Tampa Mayhem in 2014.
Ones to Watch
Heading into the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, let’s look at some of the players who will be integral to the success of the USA Hawks side in the upcoming tournament.
Mark Offerdahl: Current London Broncos forward, Offerdahl, has been a key player for the USA national side over the past five years. Instrumental in the Hawks qualifying for their second ever World Cup, Offerdahl will be a certain starter at the 2017 World Cup.
Eddy Pettybourne: Qualifying through his American Samoan heritage, Pettybourne will be looking to add to his current four caps for the USA national team at this year’s World Cup. A powerful forward, with almost 150 First Grade matches to his name, Pettybourne will bring a wealth of defensive experience to the Hawks.
Joseph Paulo: Captain for the USA National team at the 2013 World Cup, the current Cronulla Sutherland Sharks utility will definitely be in the running for this year’s World Cup, especially if he repeats his form for the 2016 Premiership winning Sharks.
Ryan Burroughs: Burroughs joins the newly formed Toronto Wolfpack club after successful stints for the NOVA Eagles in the USARL and the Wentworth Magpies in the NSWRL. Able to play anywhere in the three-quarter line or fullback, Burroughs will add some much-welcomed speed to the Hawks attack.
World Cup Group Stages
The USA Hawks will come into the 2017 Rugby League World Cup facing three new international opponents in the shape of the Fiji Bati, Italian Azzurri and Papua New Guinea Kumuls.
Facing two powerhouses of Pacific Rugby League, plus an Azzurri side which will have plenty of NRL and Super League talent to call upon will mean that repeating the success of the 2013 World Cup, and making the finals, will not be an easy feat for the Hawks at the 2017 World Cup.
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Purchase Tickets to USA v Fiji in Townsville on 28/10/2017
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Purchase Tickets to USA v Italy in Townsville on 05/11/2017
Vs Papua New Guinea
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USA v Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby on 12/11/2017 (On Sale Soon)