NARL: Introducing the West
Fourteen teams are bringing professional Rugby League to North America; two in Canada, six teams in the U.S. east, and six in the U.S. west. The competition is divided into three divisions with the two Canadian clubs playing each other and the U.S. clubs divided geographically by east and west and it is time to meet the clubs that will make up the NARL West.
Austin Armadillos: Austin has been a rugby hotbed for decades. While Union dominates the landscape there it will not take long for fans to appreciate the beautiful brutality of League. Union and League do not have the history of animosity in the U.S. that exists elsewhere around the globe and could give Austin an edge in cross-code recruitment.
Austin has a regular population of approximately 951,000 people not counting students at University of Texas, plenty of rabid sports fans to support another sports team in the area. While football is king I have no doubt League’s physicality will appeal to Austin sports fans.
To date news has been slow coming out of Austin but it is early in the competitions development. A combine has been announced for West teams to evaluate talent in May and signing announcements will likely follow soon after.
Las Vegas Blackjacks: What can be said about the Las Vegas sportsscape that has not already been said; every major sports league wants a team in Sin City. When it comes to rugby the city once hosted a Sevens stop on the HSBC World Series and has hosted several Major League Rugby (MLR) matches. The city is a destination spot for global travelers and I predict full stadiums in Vegas once fans are allowed. The Blackjacks will host the West competition as the inaugural season will be played in two stadium ‘bubbles’ (Brooklyn in the East) without fans due to Covid-19.
The Blackjacks have made a big splash early by signing American Brandon Anderson away from the Brooklyn Kings and have set the stage for a potential cross division rivalry. Anderson is a U.S. international known for his playmaking ability but his experience will be valued by Vegas even more highly.
Phoenix Venom: Phoenix is the fourteenth largest metropolitan region in the United States and the largest city in a State growing in rugby popularity. With several college rugby clubs and USA Rugby often holding its regional National Championship playoffs in Arizona Phoenix is a perfect location to introduce professional Rugby League.
The Venom have announced the signing of Union rugby star Marcus Satavu who has played at the highest level of amateur rugby in the U.S., international Sevens with the Eagles, and one season of league in 2016 with the Brooklyn Kings when he was selected to the North All-Stars. The Air Force veteran is eligible to play for the U.S. national team.
Portland Loggers: The city of Portland, Oregon has had a few failed forays into professional contact sports such as Arena, Canadian, and various U.S. non-NFL gridiron leagues. Rugby League however is just off-center enough for the capital of weird. Portland prides itself on counter-culture and Rugby League will likely be a huge hit in the City of Roses.
Portland has a metro area population of about 2.5 million people and a sports friendly environment. With nothing in the immediate area like Rugby League to compete with it other than fall football the Loggers have a high probability of success, they may even develop one of the more rabid fan bases in the league.
Portland has already announced two player signings in Nolan Tuamoheloa, a former Union player with MLR’s Utah Warriors, and Moses Lavasava once with the MLR Seattle Seawolves. Tuamoheloa, from American Samoa, is eligible to play for the U.S. national team and both players provide the Loggers with speed and power running the ball.
San Diego Swell: San Diego has a long history with rugby. As home to the MLR’s Legion, a large amateur and college club presence, as well as the Sevens training facility in Chula Vista one might think this area would be a Union stronghold but with the loss of the San Diego Chargers the city should welcome the closest code to American football. Rugby as a whole is popular in San Diego and the Swell should find their fan base in the crowded but highly populated area.
The Swell have not announced any signings and will be looking for prospects beginning with the May West Combine but I anticipate plenty of players seeking to lace up the boots in beautiful San Diego. Do not be surprised if it becomes a destination for hopeful Australian and New Zealand ruggers.
San Francisco Rush: The Rush have changed codes. Lost in the announcement of the new league could be the biggest sign of the coming rugby revolution in North America. I present to you the San Francisco Rush, a club once part of the now defunct Union competion known as PRO Rugby. While players change codes fairly often these days it is difficult to find a club doing it. I guess they call this burying the lead but hey, the Rush are last alphabetically. Not my fault.
The eleventh largest metropolitan region in the U.S., the Bay Area is a sports mecca. The Rush have an oppurtunity to fill a void the MLR missed while replacing PRO Rugby as North Americas only professional Union competition. San Francisco has hosted international rugby events and the region boasts one of the largest collections of amateur Union clubs in North America all within easy traveling distance to the Bay Area.
San Francisco signed former Union player and area local (San Jose) Sam Vailala from the East Palo Alto Razorbacks. The talented playmaker is a star in the making and should help draw crowds once Covid restrictions are lifted.