United States

The recently formed USA Women’s Rugby League (USAWRL) has taken the bit between its teeth and is moving ahead with its development plans despite the sport having been shut down across America in 2020 due to the global pandemic.

Established in 2019 as the only women’s competition endorsed by USA Rugby League LLC, the USAWRL had hoped to be included in the 2021 Women’s Rugby League World Cup (WRLWC) but was left out of the final pool of eight nations in what will be an expanded competition.

Undeterred, however, the league’s chair Garen Casey is busying himself leading the charge with others to get things rolling in preparation for 2021.

The whole women’s program is set to kick off with a development camp in Austin, TX, in November this year at which there will be a 9s tournament, plus a 13-a-side East versus West All-Star game.

2021 will open with a domestic 9s tournament to be held in March or April with the yet to be formed women’s national teams to then compete at the Americas 9s tournament and rescheduled Americas Championship.

The latter was due to have been staged in Jamaica this November but the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) postponed it until next May when the two tournaments will be played conjointly.

The USAWRL has already begun efforts to establish women’s rugby league in various regions across the US including Illinois/Chicago, New York, Florida, Utah, Texas, Los Angeles and Hawaii.

Given that as of right now, women’s rugby league is non-existent in the US, this all may sound like a lofty goal particularly given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, although Casey says there has been growing interest across the country.

“We have around 140 girls right now and that’s just from what we’ve been doing on social media,” he told Rugby League Planet. “We played the Carolina 9s last year, which gave people a taste of what it is.”

The initial plan was to gradually draw from the ranks of women’s rugby union, but as that sport has also been shelved because of the novel coronavirus, players are looking around for another outlet.

“With union not being played and with women’s rugby league having resumed in Australia, it’s going to increase the appetite for players to come across,” added Casey. “The good thing is that the girls who played in Carolina last year, coupled with us going out and building on that, they have jumped on board and said yeah, we want to play league.”

He says another factor working in the USAWRL’s favour is that USA Rugby recently filed for bankruptcy, which has caused many disgruntled players to shy away from union.

“The big word for us is opportunity,” Casey said. “We want to be able to add value to union rather than just come in and say hey, we’re going to take over. When a union player comes to league, she’ll be taught a few different things, different skillsets and it’s going to make her a better player.”

He says another significant attraction the USAWRL will offer is the chance to play internationally, something not as readily available to American union players.

“If they’re good enough, girls right now have an opportunity to be selected to play for the USA next May in the 9s and Americas Championship,” Casey continued. “We’re going to select an extended squad for the 10 days. We’ll select anywhere between 25 and 30 girls and some might be from union.

“What we want to do is put a process in place where they’ve already played league. I don’t want to select someone who hasn’t played league. I want to have them play 9s tournaments and a few 13s games prior and then if they’re good enough to make it they can be selected.”

The USAWRL is currently training coaches at Level 1 so that they are accredited under RLEF guidelines. Referees are also being accredited in 2020.

Casey says the league’s infrastructure, insurances and business model are now all in place. He maintains that the plan is to have everything ready to go for the time when the all clear is given.

“If we’re restricted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other health agencies saying it’s not safe, then we’ll put the interests of the players first and we’ll cancel,” he said.

According to Casey, the bottom-line for the new league is, “we really want to get going and we want to make sure it’s done right. We’re not going to rush it and I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

USAWRL will be a non-profit organisation which opens up the potential of driving corporate sponsorship. Its partners are launching ‘rugby’ specific supplements to support the players and financially support the game’s development domestically.

Sponsors that have signed up so far include GRRRL https://www.grrrl.com/ a brand that empowers women with a strong focus on an inclusive, non-judgmental culture; Healthsync Global https://healthsyncglobal.com/ a nutrition company covering both wellness and the new line of rugby specific supplements, and EV2 Sportswear http://www.us.ev2sportswear.com/ an apparel company.

Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others. Brian has his own YouTube channel @brianlowe5567 where he posts his interviews for Rugby League Planet. Be sure to check it out and subscribe.