Season XV of the American National Rugby League officially kicks off this Saturday, June 2 with the Atlantic Conference providing some interesting first round matchups along with the AMNRL Midwest Conference launching on Sunday, June 3 with the Chicago Stockyarders hosting the Western Storm in an historic crosstown matchup!
Mike Featherstone has been the driving force behind rugby league development in the Midwest, and out of the famous city of Chicago. His team the Stockyarders, will battle the Western Storm, also from Chicago whom are being led by Kellen Smith. In what really is a fantastic opportunity for the game in the 'windy city' it is a credit to all involved with the AMNRL that by the weekend's domestic season kickoff, games will have already been played in Philadelphia, Honolulu, Chicago, New York, Connecticut and Virginia in 2012!
Defending champions New York Knights will head into their match against the Northern Virginia Eagles (NOVA) as heavy favorites. The Knights have been one of the consistent performers in the AMNRL’s history, and this season looks to be no different.
After finishing 2011 with a 30-4 victory over the Connecticut Wildcats in the AMNRL Grand Final, the Knights will hope to renew their dominance both at home at “The Castle” (Pier 40, NYC) as well as throughout the USA.
Head coach Guillaume Cieutat returns to steady the helm once again, assisted by former Trinidadian international Hayden James. In the front office, president Rob Balachandran hopes to continue to build on the club’s reputation at home and abroad.
On the field, the Knights once again will be led by longtime USA representative Gareth Baxendale. Big Ben Sadgrove returns to the forward pack, a welcome homecoming after the loss of the Knight’s French enforcer Xavier Lozinguez, who will miss this season due to a knee injury.
One face to watch is John Dykeman, who received his first international honors this year, and is looking to make his mark on the AMNRL after two matches with the USA Tomahawks. He will be assisted by longtime Knight and Tomahawks teammate Sean Taylor, who looks to lead the defiant Knights' defense from lock.
Despite the challenging introduction to the 2012 season, NOVA Eagles coach Christian Seaman is not letting the occasion distract his focus. As he told WeAreRugby, “It’s definitely a rebuilding time for us, but in saying that I’ll be looking for the team to give their full commitment during the match.”
The Eagles will feature a number of new players who are hoping to grasp the concept of Rugby League in a quick manner, and there’s no better introduction to the game than an encounter with the defending champions.
The opening round will also see the Bucks County Sharks take on the Northern Raiders. The Raiders, one of the big improvers in 2011, are looking to continue where they left off last season. Helping their cause has been the appointment of head coach Carl Mariuz, who returns to the helm of the team, this season in a full-time capacity.
If the numbers are anything to go by, the season is looking very promising for the Raiders. As captain Joel Venables elaborates, “We’ve been practicing at Central Park and the attendance numbers have been outstanding.” Two players worth keeping an eye on for the Raiders are Fred Vero, a second year player who showed promise in 2011, and Mick Esdale - a former representative player with the Central Comets who compete in Queensland, Australia.
One match worth keeping an eye on this weekend will be the clash between the Bulls and the Connecticut Wildcats. The Cats, last season’s runners-up, will have their hands full against a Bulls side that seems to have made significant strides in the offseason.
David Niu rejoins the coaching ranks and will be looking to experienced players Corey Mayo and Bryan Confer to lead the team forward. Mayo is entering his fourth season in the AMNRL and according to coach Niu, “is ready for the next level.”
Other players to watch this season include:
Jeff Presature - after sustaining a season ending injury in the middle of last season, Jeff is keen to get back to footy and looking to make an immediate impact in the forwards.
Dan Emmons - 2nd year player had a solid learning curve last year and looking for a much bigger impact this season starting in Round 1.
Kyle Gibbons - talented 19-year old tagged as the future of the Sharks. Keep your eye out for him in the halves as he is a star in the making.
Alejandro Valentin - has been on the fringe of USA Tomahawks selections for the past two years. An electric winger with dazzling footwork and pure speed. Although small in stature he is probably pound for pound one of the strongest players in the league.
Corey Mayo - has worked hard in the off season and could be a dynamic force in the starting lineup and off the bench for the Bulls. A former football lineman, he has good hands and a strong carry with crunching defensive power.
Bryan Confer - Mr Consistent in the AMNRL competition. Solid around the rucks on offense and defense. As captain of the Bulls, he will be the foundation upon which the team will look to get go forward with the ball in hand, and rock solid in the middle around the ruck on defense.
Further information regarding schedules, results, and information on playing Rugby League in America can be found on the AMNRL’s website www.amnrl.com