In the afterglow of the USA Tomahawks’ win to qualify for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, the cogs are already in motion to move the AMNRL machine to bigger and better things in the coming years. CEO of the AMNRL, David Niu, spoke at length to WeAreRugby about what the qualification means for the league and what could be on the horizon for rugby league in the United States.
Niu believes an unprecedented chance to play on the biggest stage in rugby league heightens the leverage to attract corporate interest and to accelerate the growth of rugby league in the US. “I’m positive it’s going to mean some significant developments in how we can present ourselves on a commercial level and also on an awareness level, in the media and the public sector,” Niu said.
As plans for the 2012 season begin to be sketched out, Niu has found time to consider where the competition is headed and is encouraged by the success of the World Cup qualification. “As it all started to sink in throughout the process of the tournament, it gave me a good idea of the number of people who really care about what we do, and the clubs in our competition who really want to be successful,” he said. “The information coming back and forth from Hawaii, Utah; the Midwest teams are expanding - it looks like they’ll probably have four teams in a mini-conference next year - and further interest coming in from the Northeast corridor, Virginia and Atlanta.”
Not only does the opportunity to compete on a global stage provide more weight in commercial negotiations, it has potential to attract higher level, American-based rugby talent to the Tomahawks ranks. Niu says there are a number of players in the USA Eagles Rugby Union squad that have expressed an interest in one day playing for the Tomahawks. “There’s a number of those players who have a tremendous interest in rugby league, who would certainly keep well under our elite pool and I think there’s going to be that opportunity.”
It’s still too early to tell how great an impact the qualification will have on the AMNRL and rugby league in America, but for now, Niu and his fellow administrators are optimistic. “I think the result of the Tomahawks will help to bring some people back together, and encourage new people to be a part of what we’re doing,” he said.
The Tomahawks will share a pool with the Cook Islands and Wales in the 2013 World Cup, hosted by England and Wales, something that David Niu says provides the team with a new horizon. “It’s not like we’ve been bumped in with Australia or England or New Zealand where it’s very very difficult from the outset. We’ve got a chance to set some goals here and shoot for some success,” he said.
Interest from rugby league circles in England and Australia could see the Tomahawks getting in some international experience before the World Cup and one NRL club has expressed interest in making the trip across the Pacific to test the American national side on home soil. The 40-4 victory over Jamaica last Sunday in Camden, New Jersey, rounded out the 2011 AMNRL schedule. Check back here regularly for more information regarding the 2012 season and upcoming events.