Photo Credit: kawowo.com
In what will be a massive test for the recently established Puerto Rico Rugby League, the Caribbean-based territorial team has been slated to play the USA Rugby League (USARL) South All-Stars later this year.
The game is set to be played in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday, October 8th.
The main driving force behind the match is South All-Star manager and Tampa Mayhem CEO Billy Neilson.
“Since we weren’t able to get a North vs South All-Star game this year, I still wanted to get the South guys a game and a chance to rep the South,” Neilson tells Rugby League Planet.
“It gives Puerto Rico a chance to get another game in as well.”
Puerto Rico Rugby League was originally formed in 2018 by Akif Rodriguez, with the guidance of Chris Reid. They had set their sights on kicking into action in 2020, but the start of the pandemic put the brakes on those plans.
Their first game was against Roots Rugby in Miami back in February, with Roots coming away with a 40-6 win in a Heritage Cup match.
Puerto Rico team president Jonathan Torres says as one might imagine, there aren’t a lot of experienced players based in the territory.
“We have varied levels of experience,” Torres tells RLP. “We have a core group of about six guys who have played in the USARL and NARL. Most of our guys are newer to league but have played union at high levels.
“To us it’s exciting to get these newer guys time and experience, so that they go out and spread the word and bring more players in. Last match against Roots, was the first time a lot of the players had ever played league and the excitement they had to continue really motivated us to find the next match and keep going.
“As an organization that is our ultimate goal, bringing as many Puerto Ricans as we can together and help grow the game of Rugby League.”
Torres concedes the game against the South All-Stars, which will be just their second ever match, will be a huge test for the Puerto Ricans.
“It is a big ask, but we look forward to the challenge,” he continues. “A lot of lessons were learned after our first go and we are coming to the pitch with a little more knowledge and an even bigger fire within us as a whole to show the world that as a team we can stand with the best of them.”
Beyond the game in Tampa, Torres says Puerto Rico Rugby League has a major long-term goal.
“Our ultimate goal is to be the official Puerto Rican national team,” he says. “It is a lot of work, and we are taking the time to build a strong foundation so that we represent our island the best we can.”
As the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, players from the island are eligible for selection to the USA Hawks national team.
Neilson, who is also team manager for the Hawks, says theoretically, they could be considered.
“Puerto Rico is trying to become a member of the IRL, however, at this current time, if the players can prove eligibility, then yes they could be selected for the USA.”