Rugby League in HAWAI'I
Back in January, 60 Minutes did a piece on the remarkable fact that more football players come from American Samoa than from any other part of the US. They called it ‘Football Island’. Well, it seems that rugby has its own version of football island and it’s Hawaii. Technically, it’s not just one island of course, but it turns out that there are more good rugby athletes in Hawaii than you can poke a stick at.
The man who is doing a sterling job of identifying talent in the islands is Jack Breen, formerly with the Eastern Penn Rugby Union. On Breen’s recommendations, two players from Maui were included in the USA Tomahawks rugby league team that won the Atlantic Cup last November. Vaka Manupuna and Sione Taufa both made their international league debuts during the Tri Series, Taufa scoring a scintillating try against Canada. Kea and Keiki Misipeka who were part of the 2009 Atlantic Cup squad also originate from Hawaii. Keiki was in fact the USA Tomahawks coaching staff MVP in the victory over Jamaica. More recently, Hawaii produced three more internationals to join the Tomahawks for the Donnybrook Cup against Ireland in Philadelphia. They were Mike Tuala, Andrew Malafu, and Kelly McGill.
Breen has drawn up a Coach Watch List, an index of Hawaiian players with future potential and he has identified no fewer than 37 players who he believes have the potential to play at the international level. These players, and many other interested local athletes will be the foundation for the launch of the AMNRL Hawaiian Conference for the 2011 AMNRL season. Plans are in place under the principle leadership of Jack Breen based in Maui, and Sean Strickland who resides in Oahu to kickoff a six team competition this June which will feature clubs such as Maui, Kona, University of Hawaii, the Islanders, the Spears, and the Harlequins. The winner of the Hawaiian Conference will represent the 'west' and play against the winner of the AMNRL Club competition based on the east coast in the AMNRL 'East v West' Challenge Match scheduled for Labor Day weekend at a venue to be announced.
Breen acknowledges that he has a lot of work in front of him, but it doesn’t daunt him one bit and he’s particularly excited about future prospects for rugby league. “I want to start getting my players focused on increasing their fitness in various ways and plan to hold a combine and video tape them performing so we can post up on our website something similar to the video clip you saw on Vaka [Manupuna] from his NFL combine,” says Breen. "The rugby buzz is growing by leaps and bounds in Hawaii and this is a great time to get League in on the excitement."
AMNRL President David Niu is excited about the expansion of rugby league in the pacific region. 'We have always had a dedicated interest in developing rugby league throughout the USA, and in particular Hawaii. Jack Breen and Sean Strickland along with a number of dedicated supporters including Joe Santos and Chris Teves have been working hard locally in the region to introduce and educate an audience of local athletes with exceptional athletic DNA. What is significant about the Hawaiian region is that we are working closely with a group embedded in the local community with a network of influence in youth development programs, existing club rugby infrastructures, and the business/corporate sector. We look forward to working closely with Jack and Sean to support this incredible opportunity for rugby league in America.'
In such an important year for the USA Tomahawks program with the Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers set for October, the introduction of the new conference in the pacific will impact significantly the elite player base from which the national team high performance programs will select the final squad for the RLWCQ. The AMNRL and the Hawaii Rugby League look forward to hosting major events and internationals in Oahu and Maui in 2011 and the future.