The USA Tomahawks’ successful entry into the 2013 Rugby League World Cup is a monumental achievement for a nation which in the past has had limited experience on the international stage.
As the planning and preparation begins, their ability to perform alongside the best Rugby League teams in the world could highly depend on the caliber of international matches they can play in the lead up.
On average, the Tomahawks play between three and four internationals a year. According to the AMNRL website, the team participated in five matches in 2011, three games in 2010 and only one in 2009. The opposition for those matches included Canada, Ireland, Jamaica, and South Africa.
The lack of matches against quality opposition could be an area of concern if the team is going to be prepared for their greatest challenge to date.
Former Scottish international Brendon Lindsay, who earned six caps from 2009 to 2010, agrees. “It isn’t so much the quantity of matches they should be concerned about. We typically played about three international matches a year. The difference, however, is the quality of opposition we played against,” he told WeAreRugby.
Selected while playing for the Sheffield Eagles in England’s Cooperative Championship, Lindsay represented Scotland against Ireland, Wales, France, Italy, and Lebanon over two consecutive seasons.
“A good place to start would be matches against the European Cup teams - Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and France,” said Lindsay.
One country worth keeping an eye in the USA’s World Cup group is Wales, which recently had 12 players competing in their Four Nations bid who are contracted to either English Super League or NRL clubs. The remaining players compete in feeder competitions such as The Cooperative Championship of England, or the Queensland Cup in Australia.
According to the Wales Rugby League website, the Welsh also play limited international matches having competed in four in 2010, four in 2009, and only one in 2008. They gain competitive advantage, however, in the consistent high quality matches their players are involved in.
The Super League schedule consists of 27 rounds of play and is considered by many to be the second best Rugby League competition in the world. The league is home to many former NRL players who extend their careers with stints in the English equivalent.
Therefore, the players who comprise the national team are familiar with each other’s style of play, having competed against each other in regular season matches. Although the makeup of the Welsh team in 2013 will be different, the leagues that the players are selected from will most likely remain the same.
The Tomahawks squad, on the other hand, is made up of players who have been plucked out of either the domestic AMNRL competition or Rugby League obscurity.
Of the 20-man squad that beat Jamaica to qualify for the RLWC, nine were domestic players. The rest were a mixture of players with American heritage from competitions in Australia, France and England.
The two players with the most professional Rugby League experience - David Myles and Matthew Peterson - are unattached to clubs.
One suggestion to overcome this challenge is to host an incoming tour one year and then travel overseas the following. While this may seem to be a practical solution the question remains is it economically viable?
Lindsay acknowledges, “We were on a pretty tight budget ourselves. Until the sport grows in America, players will not want to compete in one-off matches.”
AMNRL CEO David Niu has acknowledged that this is an issue and is expected to announce an expanded international schedule for the Tomahawks in 2012 in order to bolster the team’s preparations for the 2013 World Cup.