Copperheads

As the 2024 season gets closer to a start in the United States, as was the case in 2023, there is some major upheaval on the horizon.

In this, Part 1 of our two-part series, Rugby League Planet (RLP) previews the prospective scenario on the east coast.

In an official statement, the US Association of Rugby League (USARL) has foreshadowed what it calls “transformative changes to the organizational and competitive structure” for the domestic club competition.

It has done away with the South Conference, which had been in place since 2014 when USARL took over from the American National Rugby League (AMNRL) as the national governing body with the International Rugby League’s (IRL) blessing. Since that time, there had been a North and South Conference, although the North has been in a state of turmoil since 2021.

In that year, the now defunct North American Rugby League (NARL) announced plans to start up a professional competition and that the Boston 13s, Brooklyn Kings and New York RLFC would all be defecting from the USARL’s North Conference.

The only club based in the northeast that initially stuck with the USARL was the Delaware Black Foxes, which actually played in the national championship game against the Tampa Mayhem in 2021.

There were three other teams including the Atlanta Rhinos, Cleveland Rugby League and DC Cavalry that were also touted as being part of the NARL’s start-up competition, however, unsurprisingly it never happened, which left all of those teams floating in the wind.

At the end of 2021, the New York RLFC dropped out of the failing NARL with CEO Mark Offerdahl telling RLP at the time, “The NARL have done nothing but lie and make false promises and made us all look like idiots.”

In 2022, the Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Washington DC, Delaware and Atlanta teams tried to schedule exhibition games among themselves and other clubs, but it was a real struggle. Then in 2023, Rugby League United (RLU) another breakaway competition was formed consisting of the Boston 13s, Brooklyn Kings, Delaware Black Foxes and DC Cavalry.

The DC Cavalry won the inaugural competition.

Well, after just one year of that, things apparently have changed again with the USARL continuing in its statement, “Rugby League United (RLU) which encompasses teams from the northeastern US, has officially rejoined the USARL. The RLU’s men’s teams which include the Boston 13s, Brooklyn Kings, DC Cavalry, and Delaware Black Foxes will compete against one another within the RLU conference.”

One of the main driving forces behind the establishment of RLU, Ian Ferguson of the Delaware Black Foxes, says while there won’t be any new teams in their conference this year, they hope to add more teams in the future.

And he says he feels that the RLU’s first season went pretty well.

“I think it was a big success,” Ferguson tells RLP. “Everyone in the RLU worked extremely hard to ensure the entire season ran smoothly and we were all happy with how it went.”

He continues that this year, the Black Foxes intend to do things a little differently.

“Last year we focused solely on developing domestic players for our squad,” he says. “This season we intend to add some overseas players to the roster to help bring in some additional talent and experience to our team.”

As for the South Conference, it is no more and USARL says it will now be known as the Florida Rugby League (FRL) and will consist of the Jacksonville Axemen, Southwest Florida Copperheads, Tampa Mayhem and Atlanta Rhinos.

It’s all part of the USARL’s stated goal of wanting to have a “robust national championship” and comes on the heels of the appointment of a new board and directors.

The 2024 regular season is set to kick off at the beginning of June and run until the end of July. The postseason will then start on August 3rd and will continue through the end of August culminating with the national championship game to be played on the west coast.

In Part-2 of this series, we’ll take a look at what’s expected to happen on the west coast.

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.