In 2011, the Bucks County Sharks were reinstated into top flight American rugby league after a year in the wilderness and fullback Ryan Sodano has been at the forefront of their revival playing a huge hand in helping them to finish third in the Atlantic Conference standings. Not so long ago Sodano was a young, budding, high school athlete. He ran on the track team and specialized in sprinting, hurdles and javelin. Thanks to one of his track coaches, Sodano found his way onto the rugby union pitch. Then while studying at Penn State, he made his rugby league debut for the Bucks County Sharks at age 20.
“I came out, went to a couple of practices, I loved the environment, loved the team and have been hooked ever since,” Sodano said. After graduating a year ago, he is now certified in Health and Physical Education and is currently working as a day-to-day substitute teacher with Council Rock School District, Philadelphia. Sodano is on the coaching staff of Council Rock North track team and is keen to spread the word about rugby league and promote the game throughout Philadelphia.
With so much sporting talent falling by the wayside after high school graduations across the country, Sodano sees rugby league as a viable option for so many of these natural athletes. “This [rugby league and union] is pretty much the only sport in America that has a relatively competitive level of play that goes past college or even high school,” he said. On reflecting about his own transition between high school and rugby days, Sodano thanks the social side of rugby league for him keeping the faith. “You go out, hang out and have beers with the other team afterwards. You can smash each other for eighty minutes but once it’s over, it’s over.”
The Bucks County boys have a special place in their Pennsylvania neighborhood. They are teamed up with the Hibernian Rugby Football Club. Many of the team’s core players, including Sodano, play union through the fall and spring, then pull on a Sharks’ jersey come summertime. Playing all year round takes its physical toll though and Sodano is out for the rest of the AMNRL playoffs because he separated the A/C joint in his left shoulder three weeks ago and has a while to go on the recovery trail. The Sharks will find it hard to replace his speed and sharpness on offense, but their tight knit playing roster will do their best to fill the void.
Now is a turning point in the Sharks’ lifespan. They harbor a lot of young, raw, talent but are also seeing many senior players edge closer towards retirement. Sodano finds himself somewhere in the middle, which gives him the opportunity to pass the rugby league baton from old to young. “One of the things that make us click so well together is that we are all from a local suburban area… 99 per cent of our players are homegrown American players.”