RUGBY LEAGUE may not be a sport synonymous with the USA, but the success of Tomahawks at the world cup shows that the sport is growing across the pond.
The USA squad had to rebook their flights home after unexpectedly reaching the quarter final stages following wins over Wales and Cook Islands and were finally knocked out by a ruthless Australian side.
However despite their seemingly meteoritic rise, the USA’s success is actually a long time coming.
International Rugby League stateside dates back to the 1950′s. The USA Allstars was a touring side that played 26 fixtures in Australia and New Zealand in 1953. Compiled entirely of players who had never played the sport, it was perhaps unsurprising that the side struggled, winning only 6 of the matches, and drawing two.
The tour was not a complete disaster, the side did attract a crowd of over 65,000 in Sydney, but All Star concept was scrapped after two further exhibitions against Australia and New Zealand in California.
Apart from a solitary defeat to France in 54, it would be 23 years until a USA Rugby League team next competed in a competitive game, losing to Canada. Despite the defeat, the game would prove a watershed moment for the sport in America, as the USA have since has a side competing in the regular International calender.
2012 proved to a landmark year for the Tomahawks, qualifying for their first World Cup, at which they surpassed all expectations. The USA’s chances were greatly aided by being able to call upon established stars of the game such as Joseph Paulo and Eddy Pettybourne, but a quarter final finish still represents a major success for the stars and stripes. The USA captured the hearts of Rugby League fans from across the world, and even received the biggest show of support of all the nations, being immortalised in song by Australian children’s entertainers The Wiggles
Domestically the game is starting to pick up momentum state side. The American National Rugby League (AMNRL) consists of 6 semi professional clubs from across the country (Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Rhode Island and Washington D.C). The AMNRL is officially recognised by the Rugby League International Federation as the official division, 7 teams broke away in 2011 to form the USA Rugby League.
In light of the success at the World Cup, The Tomahawks have received the funding necessary to remain committed to International competition in the long term, and with the increased awareness of the sport at home, the future looks bright, for the Stars and Stripes.