Oregon Rugby League

In a year that has already seen a new start-up competition take shape in the western United States comes news of yet one more new league in the throes of becoming a reality on the west coast.

Oregon Rugby League (ORL) is in the process of being set up with its primary goal of joining the Pacific Coast Rugby League (PCRL) in 2024. The PCRL is currently made up of conferences in California and Utah.

The main driving force behind the establishment of ORL is Nik Sarabia, and he says it has been several years in the making.

“In 2020 it was actually a gentleman by the name of Chris from Australia that reached out to me and asked if I’d be up for trying to start rugby league in Oregon,” Sarabia tells Rugby League Planet.

“He already created the social media side of things for ORL, but because he was not actually in the States, I was the one to lead the charge.

“It wasn’t till this past year that the USARL and PCRL both showed interest in helping me continue the movement and were very helpful every step of the way.”

And he says, for the most part, he is working on ORL on his own.

“The PCRL has been very supportive and has been there for guidance when it’s needed and helpful in pointing me in the right direction,” he says. “The PCRL has helped provide the digital posters that I’ve been able to use for promoting the ORL and helping to put on virtual meetings.

“The social media advertising, meeting players in person up and down the I-5 here in Oregon and the financial payment for securing our playing field was all out of my pocket and own time.”

Sarabia admits it has been a challenge trying to set up a new rugby league competition in a state where the game hasn’t existed before now, although he says it has also been exciting.

“I think there is definitely some displeasure from some folks who maybe have been told for years not to play one code or the other and how one is superior to the other, and I know those things are said because when I was younger, that’s what was being told to me also,” he says.

“But on the other hand, there have been some real positivity from individual players and a women’s rugby union side who are all open to the idea of league being played in the state and wanting to help build a positive culture of rugby in general.”

To get the ball rolling, he has set up the ORL’s inaugural game on Sunday, September 3, against the Vancouver Dragons RLFC from British Columbia, Canada.

Oregon vs Vancouver

“The process in securing a facility was relatively easy, but the player recruitment, the timing of announcements and equipment has been challenging,” Sarabia adds. “The process to make sure we have enough players ready for gameday is still a challenge.”

That game is scheduled to be played in Keizer, Oregon, which is within the city of Salem. Sarabia thinks the game could generate more interest in rugby league in the Beaver State as it will be evidence that it is more than just posts on social media.

He has managed to attract several sponsors in a short period of time, and he puts that down to persistence.

He says it’s about keeping people in the loop, and to that end, he says he would like it to be known that more sponsors and donations are always welcome, not for himself, but to help provide financial help for players and clubs wanting to start up.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for ORL at https://gofund.me/7dc48bef

Sarabia says his aspirations for Oregon Rugby League are very clear.

“Short-term, to be a tool to help break through in the community to show that there can be more than one avenue for anyone who wants to extend their rugby playing experience and to just be part of the rugby conversations and community already here,” he continues.

“Long-term, to have ORL as a fully functional governing body in Oregon and a key player for the national teams in providing players for both the men’s and women’s sides.

“I would like to have ORL as a representative team that can take the best in our state and travel to California, Florida, Jamaica and so on and test our skills and competitiveness.”

And further to that, he says he has set his sights on a plan that he believes is doable.

“I personally will be moving forward with my own club for the coming year, the Willamette Valley Haybalers,” he says.

“The hope is that at least one other club in the state can form and join us and play a hybrid season, possibly a best of three or five series with a weekend thrown in where one club heads south for matches with California teams and the other heads east to Utah and does the same.

“There are options and ideas on the burner even if there is one club in 2024 to still have a meaningful summer of matches played. The point is to get people playing, which in turn will help broaden the player pool for the Hawks and also show that league can work in our state and hopefully spur more interest for players to come out.”

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.