The American National Rugby League is excited to officially announce that NRL powerhouse the Melbourne Storm from Australia will visit the USA in an historic matchup where American Rugby League fans can expect to see the best possible squad that the Storm can put on the field when it plays a one-off friendly against the Tomahawks.
The Storm will make history by becoming the first NRL club to play the American national team when the two square off in October. New York and Philadelphia are the two frontrunners in the race to be named the host city.
Melbourne, which sits atop the standings after seven rounds of the 2012 NRL season, boasts three of the game’s global superstars in Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, but whether US fans will see them in action will largely depend on availability and injury status. The match is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 13.
Australia is slated to play New Zealand in a test match at that same time and it’s more than likely that all three would be called into the Kangaroos squad if healthy. If so, the Storm visit will be pushed back a week with the game to be played on October 20. All details will be confirmed throughout the year.
The idea for the match was first hatched after the Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers in the US last fall when a high-powered Storm coaching staff of Head Coach Craig Bellamy, General Manager Football Operations Frank Ponissi, Communications GM Frank Barrett and Head Physio Kieren Morgan ended a two-week study trip to the USA in New York.
They met with American National Rugby League board members Rob Balachandran and Matt Astill and one of the topics of discussion was the need for the Tomahawks to schedule quality games in the lead up to the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
“When we saw the enthusiasm from both Matt and Rob we didn’t want to let them down,” Ponissi told WeAreRugby. “On our arrival back to Melbourne I proposed the idea to a few of our senior players to get their reaction. They were absolutely excited and extremely keen to make it happen.”
And according to Ponissi, the upside of the match is enormous for the Storm. “The game provides both the players and the club with some unique opportunities, including playing against an international team - the Melbourne Storm have never played against an international team let alone a World Cup team. This is an attraction to all our players, but the benefits for our younger players are high.
“Playing in one of the greatest cities and countries in the world - without any doubt, both the USA and New York has an aura about them and this excites both the players and the coaching staff. The timing of the game allows the players to spend some time after the tour in the US. Given that it is a long season in the NRL, such a tour is a fantastic carrot for the players for the end of season and genuinely something to look forward to.”
Ideally, if Melbourne was to go through to the NRL Grand Final its players would still be match fit when they tackle the Tomahawks, however, if it gets bounced early from the playoffs the gap to the game would be wider, which would be a disadvantage for the visitors.
Another potential obstacle is covering the cost of the tour given that the club’s 2012 budget had already been set prior to the New York meeting, although Ponissi doubts that any of these factors will derail the team's plans to the tour. And besides, he says the club sees the trip to the US as a pretty big deal.
“In a traditional non Rugby League city like Melbourne the publicity that such a game will attract will be of enormous benefit to our club especially given that the month of October is a non-active period for our game to attract media coverage,” added Ponissi.
“More importantly, the players are genuinely excited about playing the game and their drive to make this game happen is the most motivating factor for me.”
The match with the Storm will come towards the end of a busy international schedule for the Tomahawks, who will have played Ireland, Tonga, and Canada, twice, before hosting the Australians.