Rugby League has made big strides this year in Hawaii and if you need any proof of that just take a look at the USA’s national team squads. Of the Tomahawks’ 22-man Colonial Cup squad, four are from Hawaii, while another has been included in the college All-American team to contest the men’s All-Star Sevens championship. The Tomahawks tackle Canada on Saturday in Philadelphia in Game 1 of this year’s Colonial Cup series and included in the 22 are Kelly McGill (Maui Voyagers), Thomas Ray (Hawaii Islanders), Josh Rice (Hawaii Islanders) and Touanga Talakai (Maui Voyagers).
Add to those, Hawaiian-born Leslie Alovili who plays for the Northern Raiders in the AMNRL’s Atlantic Conference and who is also in the squad, and Jayson Rego (University of Hawaii) who’s unavailable for the Colonial Cup because he’s in the All-American Sevens squad, and it is safe to say that rugby football is alive and well in paradise. The AMNRL established the Pacific Conference in the Hawaiian islands this season and it hasn’t taken long to unearth some players who show the potential to compete at a higher level, hence their inclusion in the national squads. Ray at 6’5”235lbs and Talakai at 6’4” 260lbs are both good in contact and go hard, while McGill, who already has a Tomahawks cap to his name, is as crafty as they come and has no problem taking the hit-ups that always seem to find the big contacts.
According to AMNRL Hawaii chief Jack Breen, they all “provide some interesting options for earning extra sets as we move forward.” In the backs, the 6’ 215lbs Rice, formerly a linebacker at UH, is always fun to watch play. He has a great work rate and brings power and passion with his game. “I expect to see very good things from him and am looking forward to watching him continue to develop his tremendous potential with the excellent work ethic he has to go with it,” says Breen about the new rugby league convert.
Meantime, Alovili showed that he too can be an asset to the US as he knows how to find the try zone. He was among the AMNRL’s leading try-scorers during the regular season and played a big part in his team advancing to the postseason. And then there is Rego, a 5’9” 195lbs running back at UH who now plays on the wing. He did enough at a High Performance camp in Hawaii in July to catch the eye of Tomahawks head coach Matt Elliott and was also recommended for inclusion in the All-American Sevens squad. On top of all of these players, several more have been named in the Tomahawks train-on squad for the Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers in October. Andrew Malafu, Vaka Manupuna, Sione ‘Pila’ Taufa and Mike Tuala have been on Tomahawks teams before and all hope to be on the national team again when the US embarks on a course it hopes will end in a berth at the 2013 RLWC in the UK.
And if the USA is to be successful, it undoubtedly will in part be due to the contributions made by players from Hawaii.