The 2011 American National Rugby League season got underway Saturday with two matches on the fixture card. The games kicked off a new look AMNRL competition that features four returning teams, a new expansion franchise and a club that was one of the founding sides which comes back from a hiatus last season.
In the opening game at Shark Park in New Jersey, the hometown Bucks County Sharks got the nod 30-10 over the visiting Northern Raiders. For the Sharks, it was their first AMNRL match since pulling out of the league at the end of the 2009 season. The club went through some major restructuring in 2010 in preparation for its return this season. The Sharks showed that they will be a force to be reckoned with in their return year by scoring a bonus point win despite being held up over the line several times. “We’re looking forward to a good season,” Bucks County’s Phil Shipos told WeAreRugby.
The Raiders also have retooled since last season and have brought in several experienced players from Australia. Dan Fullarton, from the Ipswich Jets club near Brisbane, is the captain and is joined in New York by Matt Vautin, son of Aussie legend Paul Vautin, and Hawaiian born Leslie Alovili. Although they came out on the wrong side of the ledger against the Sharks, the Raiders made a good account of themselves. “It’s exciting to see people playing rugby league in America,” said Fullarton. “I’ve come from playing Queensland Cup, so I’m not here to further my career, but rather to help the Raiders in the AMNRL.” Alovili, who joins the club from the West Tigers Toyota Cup squad in Sydney, has his sights set on making the USA Tomahawks side for the Rugby League World Cup qualifiers in October. “I’ve read about the Tomahawks on your website and I really want to make the team." One other new face on the Raiders’ roster this year is American Paulo Reis, a former wrestler, and he has been pegged as a player to watch.
After a reschedule at Monsignor Bonner Stadium in Philadelphia, the Connecticut Wildcats faced the New York Knights in the second game of the season. The Wildcats proved superior in their first outing, edging out New York 42-40. Goal kicking was the difference in the high-scoring thriller that proved both teams’ defense still has room for improvement. The Knights won’t have to wait long for a shot at redemption, the teams will face off again next weekend with the Wildcats gaining the home ground advantage. The Delaware Vipers will reschedule the Aston Bulls to conclude the first round of the season.