Rugby League World Cup results not everything for USA
By Billy Painter and Alastair Finn
Last Updated: 09/11/17 7:08pm
Heading into the Rugby League World Cup, the USA were perceived by many as outsiders - and results have backed up that statement – but we should look at more than results alone when we judge the team’s contribution to the tournament.
The USA squad includes 12 players who have appeared in the USARL's club competition - a significant increase from the number involved in the USA's 2013 World Cup campaign, which was their first appearance in a Rugby League World Cup.
The carrot of representing the USA on the global stage will be a huge motivating factor for players in the USARL - and with over half of Brian McDermott's 23-man squad having featured in this competition, it shows that the pathway and opportunity is there to represent their nation.
For the America-based players, playing in a World Cup against some of the world's finest will provide them with invaluable experience that they can take back to their respective teams - such as Atlanta Rhinos, Philadelphia Fight and New York Knights.
Plus, there is the influence and knowledge imparted to them by Super League's most successful coach - Brian McDermott.
With the Hawks coach planning to utilise his entire squad throughout the World Cup, experience and opportunity is clearly seen as an important factor for the USA's development.
They competed in a hard-fought three-way competition to qualify against Canada and Jamaica - two more countries where rugby league has seen growth in recent times.
All three sides were made up of predominantly domestic players and the games were played at a strong standard, with all sides fully aware of the benefits of making a Rugby League World Cup.
More exposure and experience against stronger international opposition can only benefit nations such as the USA. Heavy defeats cannot be overlooked in the record books, but what will hopefully become evident in time is the development and progression of these nations after such defeats.
Rugby league appears to be growing in North America, with Toronto Wolfpack's inaugural season in the British leagues having generated major interest and proving highly successful - both on and off the pitch.
Regular crowds of over 7,000 for their home games at Lamport Stadium and promotion from League 1 to the Championship at their first attempt shows that this is a project that continues to grow and flourish - and has plenty more to offer going forward.
USA players Ryan Burroughs and Joe Eichner have both featured for the Wolfpack throughout the 2017 season, with Eichner a successful competitor in the Wolfpack's player trials. Hopefully, there will be growth in the amount of North American players at the Wolfpack in the coming years.
Talks and plans seem to be well underway for a second transatlantic team in the British leagues as well, this time New York. If this comes to fruition, the profile of rugby league in North America has a platform upon which to grow, hopefully enticing more people to show an interest in both playing and watching the sport.
With more plans to launch and develop more North American sides, the pathway is certainly there for North American sportspeople to try their hand at rugby league - and in time enhance the player standard available for the respective international sides.
The 2025 Rugby League World Cup is set to be staged across the USA and Canada - an exciting venture and one that not many would have tipped 10 years ago. If ever the sport is going to make inroads into this part of the world, the time is now.
A vast amount of young people try their hand at established North American sports such as gridiron, baseball, ice hockey and basketball. Rugby league must find a way to lure those sportspeople that don't make it in those sports to give rugby league a try and grow the talent pool.
American football players in particular would offer very similar qualities and attributes to those required to be a rugby league player - not to mention that the American football season takes part in the rugby league off-season. So the two sports would not be competing directly against each other.
With successful transatlantic teams and an improving USARL competition - combined with representation and exposure on the international stage - the foundations are laid.
The challenge now is to build on those foundations and maximise the potential in North America, and by the time the 2025 World Cup comes around, we could see the USA Hawks pose more of a threat to the more established nations in the competition.