The exciting news just keeps on coming for rugby league in the US with the American National Rugby League announcing plans for a proposed summer competition in southern California.
It’s envisaged that four teams would play an exhibition series of games at the end of the local rugby union season.
The AMNRL Southern California Tournament would tentatively run from May 19 through June 30 and possible teams could include Los Angeles Raiders (Santa Monica RFC + LA RFC etc), North Orange County (Back Bay RFC + Huntington RFC etc), South Orange County (Gators RFC + Ravens RFC etc) and San Diego (North County RFC + Old Aztecs RFC + OMBAC RFC etc).
The opening weekend would be dedicated to a rugby league orientation with Round 1 matches starting in the second week. Games would be played over four 15 minute quarters, in line with standard AMNRL competition, and Round 5 would be a Finals round with the top two teams playing off for the SoCal title, while the third and fourth teams would play off for the minor placings.
All games would be played at the same venue over the course of the tournament for insurance and cost saving purposes.
The two main driving forces behind the Southern California Tournament are Col Manners and Zane Hirtzel. Manners previously played for the New York Knights in the AMNRL’s Atlantic Conference before moving to the West Coast.
“I remember as a youngster watching a State of Origin [in 1987] that was held in Long Beach, California, and I am excited that League is going to be played again in front of Californian eyes,” Manners told WeAreRugby.
“I'm really looking forward to staging our first AMNRL Tournament in Southern California. It will be great to present the sport of Rugby League to new eyes. Our teams will be made up from the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas. They will be of Union background predominately, but with the athletes that SoCal breeds I have no doubt there will be plenty of interest from American footballers leaving High School or College.
“The athletic breeding ground of Southern California reminds me a lot of what Queensland can produce back home in Australia. The amazing weather down here always helps.
“I am also excited to be working with Zane Hirtzel, an ex-pat Kiwi who has a real go-getter attitude and is very passionate about the development of Rugby League. We are hoping this tournament will bring not only interest from players and supporters in the SoCal area, but to scout potential USA Tomahawks players for the World Cup next year.”
The Southern California Tournament would mark the long-awaited return of rugby league to the Golden State after a 17-year hiatus. The 13-man code was last played in California in 1995.
Back then, current Huntington Beach Unicorns president Ray Viers was heavily involved with rugby league exhibition games in California.
In 1994, the Los Angeles Condors, a rugby league All Star team, played a northern California representative side in the curtain raiser to the USA-Russia rugby league international at Kezar Stadium and there were more games a year later in the Bay Area.
“We played NorCal at Balboa Park in San Francisco,” said Viers. “We won once again and in the second game we picked a select team of players from both teams and played the Qantas sub-districts team from Sydney.”
That match ended in a 33-33 tie and following those exhibition games, which attracted sizeable crowds of more than 3000, there were discussions with the then Australian Super League about establishing rugby league in America.
In the end, however, those talks proved fruitless, but the AMNRL was later formed on the East Coast in 1998 and will be entering its 15th season in May when competition kicks off in the new expansion Midwest Conference.
For more information on the West AMNRL developments contact Col Manners