The American National Rugby League is gearing up for the most important, and potentially history-making, series in its 14-year history. The AMNRL is getting set to host the Rugby League World Cup Atlantic Zone Qualifying series later this year and has selected its biggest ever train-on squad for the USA Tomahawks. The US has never made it to a Rugby League World Cup, so the idea is to give head coach Matt Elliott the best possible pool of players to pick from when it comes time to trim the squad for the qualifiers.
In line with that, the AMNRL has named 15 overseas-based players who are eligible for the Tomahawks and within that group are four who play in the Queensland Cup, a feeder system for the NRL in Australia. One of those players is Mark Offerdahl of Easts Tigers in Brisbane. Offerdahl, who will turn 24 just days before the RLWCQ series starts in October, qualifies for Tomahawks selection because his grandfather, Emild, was born in the US. Offerdahl’s grandmother was swept off her feet by her American suitor while he was on leave in Australia during World War II and they split their time between Wisconsin and Australia. His father, Mike, was born down under but raised in Wisconsin and served with the US Army in Korea before relocating to Australia. Offerdahl learned to play rugby league while growing up on the Gold Coast, and later Goondiwindi, and got his first big break in 2005 when he was signed as a teenager by the Manly club in Sydney. The back-rower put in four seasons with the Sea Eagles juniors before returning to Queensland in 2009 to join the Tigers.
He first realized rugby league was played in America in 2004 when the Kangaroos stopped off in Philadelphia for a one-off test against the USA on their way back from the Four Nations in the UK. “I always knew I had an American passport since I was a kid and thought maybe I’d be a chance down the track of getting a start for the Tomahawks,” Offerdahl told WeAreRugby. “A few years later my manager at the time got in contact with David Niu [AMNRL president] and I’ve stayed in contact with him ever since through Facebook and emails and it’s gone from there.”
All the overseas-based players in the train-on squad have experience at higher club levels, some at the highest, and Offerdahl knows selection to the World Cup squad won’t be automatic. “There are some pretty good foreign players on the list so I’d be very happy to make the cut,” he said. “There’s a couple of ex-NRL players, some [English] Super League players and a few Q Cup players so it’s going to be hard, but it would be great.”
At 6’ 220lbs Offerdahl is also a personal trainer and is focused on maintaining his fitness and endurance and continually works on his skills set in order to stay on top of his game. “That’s the main thing in rugby league these days. Fitness, talent and ball skills,” continued Offerdahl. “You can be big and strong and fit, I’ve seen a million of them, but they can’t play football to save themselves. “The whole strength and speed thing is just an added bonus; it can only get you so far. You’ve got to have that talent, that fitness, that drive, that mongrel about you I guess. That’s the difference.” Those qualities are what brought him to this point and he hopes that they, along with continued good form, will take him all the way into the US national team. Aside from his goal of representing the USA in the RLWCQ, Offerdahl will further his playing career in France signing a contract with Carcassonne in the French Elite 1 league. He’ll take a short break at the end of the Queensland Cup season before jetting to the south of France for the start of the Elite 1 competition. The French season runs from October through June at which time Offerdahl hopes to hook up with an AMNRL team for the 2012 season in the United States.