United States

2021 seems to be the year for unsanctioned breakaway competitions in the world of sport. Indeed, the hole left in the finances of many sporting institutions around the world has led to opportunism like never seen before on the world stage. Regrettably, most of it is quite distasteful and designed to fill the pockets of those whose pockets are already bursting. 

Call it a power grab or coup d’état, whatever the official term may be, the truth is that the powers that be of international sport need to be watched closer than ever. There will always be the danger of those less fortunate being susceptible to the lures of a quick buck but, ultimately, drastically losing out in the long run. As far as how alert rugby league needs to be, it’s hard to say, but there is a storm brewing across the Atlantic as a rebel rugby league tournament threatens to rival the USARL.

All may not be as it seems 

Perhaps it may even be a bit unfair to call it a rebel league but the reality is that there are many unanswered questions about the new league in North America. What we do know for sure is that it hasn’t been sanctioned by America’s governing body for rugby league which is undoubtedly the clearest indication that all isn’t quite as it seems. What the USARL has officially said is that any participating players face potential sanctions from being allowed to play in international sporting events. Is this all starting to sound quite familiar? If it is, you’re not imagining things. 

In essence, this is exactly what was threatened by UEFA and FIFA when football went through its moment of crisis after the continent’s biggest clubs announced that they would be forming what was called the European Super League. To stop the plan dead in its tracks, the powers that be of the footballing world chose to use this potential suspension as a way of making the players think twice about their involvement. This is, of course, what the USARL are also trying to achieve before this tournament gets off the ground. Whether the results will be as effective as the one that that hierarchy of European football experienced remains to be seen.

But if we were to put all the smoke and mirrors aside for a moment and say that the new North American Rugby League was given the green light, would anyone watch it? 

Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence

The greatest interest in rugby league from around the world is naturally in Europe and Australia, so you can imagine a scenario where the organizers of the NARL are looking to broker a substantial TV arrangement with broadcasters abroad in order to bankroll the tournament. Indeed, seeing as there’s already a rugby league competition played in the States, the thought of gate receipts bringing in any real financial contribution is hard to picture. This is especially the case when you consider that the record attendance for any rugby league game in America was in 2018 when England played New Zealand. On that day, only 19,320 witnessed the Kiwis beat the English. 

In comparison, the NRL in Australia has seen crowds in excess of 100,000 for Grand Final games over the years. The actual record was set in 1999 during a Grand Final game between Melbourne Storm and StGeorge/Illawarra Dragons when 107,558 arrived at the Sydney Olympic Stadium to see the two play. In fact, we may see similar size crowds this season given that Melbourne Storm are fancied to get back to the Grand Final again this year after winning the 2020 showpiece. That is what the best US online sports betting sites in 2021 suggest with the Storm at 4/1 to win. Indeed, the US may not be a hotbed for rugby league and it doesn’t sit alongside baseball or American football as the best sports for online betting in the country, but it’s clearly on the up and up.

That reputation hasn’t been built overnight, however. Far from it, as rugby league competition in Australia has been around since 1908. There is a lesson for the new North American Rugby League here, given that, for the last 112 years, rugby league down under has run continuously and there is still only room for one league. 

Should the new rugby league competition take off, though, perhaps we could see a new approach to the game we love. For now, we can only wait and see how it all unfolds. Maybe the European Super League won’t be the biggest sporting breakaway this year.