Atlanta Rhinos - TimeLine Photo

The USA Rugby League LLC annual general meeting covered a wide-ranging list of topics from the 2021 domestic competition to coaching certification and a myriad of other things in between.

While the meeting was hosted by the Atlanta Rhinos club, due to the global pandemic, it was actually convened via a Zoom meeting that was attended by representatives from all 12 domestic teams, the national women’s program and masters and wheelchair rugby league divisions, as well as referees, along with guests from EV2, California Rugby League, Columbus Rugby League, Minnesota, and Royal Engineers RL from the UK.

One of the first matters to be approved was the addition of a new team to the South Conference. Miami-based South Florida Speed will take the number of teams in the conference to six.

Adding the Speed to the conference will offer more flexibility with scheduling for all teams in the South and no need for byes, according to Southwest Florida Copperheads founder Curtis Goddard.

“We can also create divisions which could help limit our travel to Jacksonville and Atlanta in a given season,” he said. “Plus, help limit Jacksonville and Atlanta’s travel down to southwest Florida.”

As far as the North Conference goes, there is significant hesitation from teams like the Boston 13s, White Plains Wombats and defending national champion Brooklyn Kings regarding what their season may look like given current coronavirus restrictions in northeastern states.

A handful of teams rely heavily on bars and restaurants for sponsorship, so there is some concern about whether that will continue this year because of the hardships that small local businesses have encountered since the outbreak of COVID-19.

The only bylaw that was updated during the AGM was in relation to domestic/exempt/import player designations on team sheets.

“We are following a rule similar to IRL regulations now in which if a player who has been designated as ‘exempt’ plays for any USARL team for three years and resides in the USA for 210 out of 365 days, that player can now be recognized as a ‘domestic’ player on team sheets even if the player still only holds a green card instead of US citizenship,” said Atlanta Rhinos owner/captain Nick Newlin.

The league is considering opening the 2021 season a little differently than what has been the case in past years.

“We are looking at doing some nines on May 15 and 22,” said Tampa Mayhem CEO Billy Neilson. “So, the season should kick off the first week of June, so June 5.”

That concept is based on the USARL’s original rugby league nines tournament hosted by the Philadelphia Fight at Conshohocken, PA, in 2011.

The national championship game is penciled in for August 28 with the annual All-Star match to follow on September 11. The South Conference winner will host the championship game, while the North Conference winner will host the All-Star game.

USARL LLC chairman Danny Hanson told Rugby League Planet that there are a host of other things in the pipeline, making for a busier year than ever before.

“We are planning for more coaching and referee certification courses this year,” he said. “Women’s is going strong and plans to kickoff this year with the center of operations in Chicago.

“Masters has four teams now and plans to play curtain raisers at men’s matches and are fielding interest from overseas teams on tours. Masters has also been invited to the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) Masters festival, which will occur around the men’s semifinals of the RLWC.

“Wheelchair is prepping for the RLWC and a tournament in the spring.

“California is running along and have strong interest in Northern Cal. We need to put together some form of agreement to officially recognize California Rugby League, so we are working together and to allow their players to be eligible for the US national team.

“Columbus (Voyagers) want to get involved and build a Midwest Conference.”

EV2 Sportswear has been approved as the official supplier to all USARL Hawks and domestic teams for on and off field apparel and Hanson said the EV2 league-wide kit contract is now in full effect for men’s, women’s and masters teams.

“We are forming a committee to look for a league-wide sponsor,” he added. “We have some interest and will pursue these as we move towards the start of the season.

“Of course, all plans are COVID dependent. If we see that fields will be difficult to get, we may have to adjust the schedule to maybe 9s magic weekends or another solution. We will adjust based on requirements and availability.”

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.