Yesterday, the Rugby League world was rocked with news that a North American Rugby League competition would be set up in the USA and Canada.
The new division will feature teams from across the United States and Canada, with the league being split into conferences – much like American Football and their Superbowl – and a Canadian division including former Super League side Toronto Wolfpack and Ottawa Aces, who had been set to join League 1.
All teams will play each other home and away in their respective conferences, before the playoffs begin. The top three teams from the Western Conference will join either Toronto or Ottawa and play for two places in the Division Final. The top four from the Eastern Conference will then make up their playoffs.
Sides from both conferences will play in the Divisional Finals, before taking to the pitch one more time in the Grand Final. The play-offs start at the end of August, and culminate in the final on 12th September.
The plan is thorough, but amidst all the hullabaloo, questions need answering. Six new clubs – Portland Loggers, the Phoenix Venom, Austin Armadillos, Las Vegas Blackjacks, San Diego Swell and San Francisco Rush – will all be joining the Western Conference. But, these clubs didn’t exist even a week ago, how can they suddenly become professional outfits?
Look out for round one of the new league too; it is barely three months away until 19/20 June when the opening round takes place. There’s still a mountain of work to get through until that date can even be feasible, not least the founding of an actual governing body.
Who will own these clubs? Will they be declared fit and proper or will another Toronto episode be soon on the horizon but on a much larger scale? Who will be the ones to declare them fit and proper?
Ottawa Aces have said that they will play in both the NARL competition and League 1 in 2022, how will that even be possible?
The issue of stadia must also be addressed. Ottawa and Toronto are sorted – as are Eastern Conference outfits New York Rugby League and Atlanta Rhinos, but the question about where the rest will play needs to be looked at. Even established clubs such as Jacksonville Axemen and Brooklyn Kings – who have been key players in the USARL competition in recent seasons – play in the University of Florida fields and Bushwick Inlet Field respectively. A field just won’t cut it if the NARL is expected to be “the next big thing”.
Such huge news has also meant that there will be severe repercussions for the USARL competition which has been making important strides in the past few seasons. Four USARL sides will be joining the NARL – Brooklyn Kings, Boston Thirteens from the North Conference and then Jacksonville Axemen and the Atlanta Rhinos from the South counterpart. Considering only 12 teams make up the USARL, a third of the clubs will therefore be jumping ship, plunging the ten-year-old competition into jeopardy.
It’s a novel concept, and over the upcoming months and years, it will be interesting to see if things pan out as excitingly as they seem. But, the plans are far from clear-cut and an incredible amount of hard work is still needed to even get within touching distance of Super League.