Continuing our series of exclusive interviews with some of the overseas players who are eligible for the USA Tomahawks in this crucial Rugby League World Cup qualifying season, this time we catch up with another member of the train-on squad hoping to make the final cut. Mark Cantoni is aiming to resume his test career in October when the USA hosts South Africa and Jamaica in Philadelphia.
He last represented the US in 2007 when the Tomahawks faced off against Samoa in their bid to qualify for the 2008 RLWC. 32-year old Cantoni, a surveyor by profession, is eligible due to his grandmother on his father’s side having been born in Fort Bragg, California. She and Cantoni’s grandfather later moved to Australia and put down roots in North Queensland. Cantoni grew up in the town of Malanda, near Cairns, and plays for the Northern Pride in the Queensland Cup
At 6’2” and 215lbs, the second-rower has played more games for the Pride than all but one of his teammates, is one of the team’s leading try-scorers and was a member of their Premiership-winning team in 2010. While he always knew about his American ties, Cantoni says he first started thinking about the possibility of being selected for the USA after talking with a former teammate who had previously played for the Tomahawks. Steele Retchless, a former Easts Tigers and London Broncos player, introduced him to American National Rugby League president David Niu in 2006 and the two have stayed in touch ever since.
Like the other players we have spoken with, Cantoni says he’s extremely motivated to be included in the USA’s push for World Cup qualification. “Hopefully I’ll get picked in the team,” he tells WeAreRugby. “I’m very excited to be part of the Tomahawks’ qualifying process. “If I get to play for the US again and if we qualify for the World Cup it would be great. Yeah, it would be special.”
In the immediate future, the back-rower is focused on the Northern Pride’s Queensland Cup campaign and a possible repeat as champions. With two rounds remaining in the regular season, the Pride lie second in the standings and are looking to go deep in the postseason during September. Cantoni is one of 15 overseas players who have been named in the Tomahawks train-on squad. US head coach Matt Elliott is expected to put them through their paces at a separate assembly in Australia sometime in September prior to the AMNRL announcing its RLWCQ squad.