Cleveland v NOVA in rugby league exhibition match

Photo Credit: Cleveland Rugby League

It wasn’t so much about the score as it was about introducing rugby league to Cleveland as the more experienced Northern Virginia (NOVA) Eagles outplayed the home team 72-18 in their Labor Day weekend exhibition game in what is known colloquially as ‘The Rock and Roll Capital of the World.’

Cleveland Rugby League jumped out of the blocks like Usain Bolt and quickly shot out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but then the class of the USA Rugby League (USARL) North Conference team NOVA began to shine through.

The match, played over four 20-minute quarters, saw the Eagles establish a 34-14 lead by the end of the second quarter, a margin they extended during the next two quarters while restricting Cleveland to a solitary try.

It was the first 13-a-side game for Cleveland, which had previously played just one exhibition 9s match against the Chicago Stockyarders in 2018, the year in which the team was formed.

The home squad had only four practice sessions leading up to Saturday night’s game and most of the players came from backgrounds with local and international rugby union clubs.

“It was amazing,” Cleveland captain/coach and founder Monte Gaddis told Rugby League Planet. “The guys who played on our team loved the transition and want to learn league.

“Our guys were thinking union things so we didn’t play as fast we could or as fast as the Virginia team because they were all league guys, but I still say this was a win for Cleveland because our guys wanted to compete, they didn’t let up and we want to play more.

“Everyone on both teams think we have a chance to compete.”

From NOVA’s perspective, their USA Hawks representative Ryan Burroughs sprained his MCL on the first play of the game and consequently played the whole match on a bum knee, but he agreed it was his side’s overall experience that was a huge difference.

“They had a lot of phenomenal athletes and I thought they played really well for what they’d been exposed to,” he said.

“We rolled through the middle and our forwards took control of the game. Towards the end our outside backs, mainly from Mount St Mary’s College, ran rampant. But I think the potential for Cleveland Rugby League is very, very good.”

Another USA Hawk, Chris Frazier, turned in a solid performance that enabled the Eagles to play off the back of him and get on the front foot to set the tone for the contest.

Both teams named their own Man-of-the-Match awards. Cleveland’s went to Notre Dame College centre Christen Olsen, who hails from Luxembourg. He scored a try and made numerous line breaks, while NOVA’s MVP was another league debutant Will Jacobs.

After the game, Cleveland and NOVA players were unanimous in agreement that they can see a promising future for rugby league in the Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie.

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.