The North American Rugby League is born

Toronto Wolfpack facing the Widnes Vikings in 2018

On March 31, the second professional men’s rugby league in the Americas was announced. This is the North American Rugby League (NARL), which will be based mostly in the U.S. but will also have teams from Ottawa and Toronto in Canada.

The new North American Rugby League is officially born

There are fourteen founding members of the North American Rugby League (NARL). The NARL will have two conferences in 2021. They will have an East Conference and a West Conference of six teams each. Furthermore, there will be a Canada Series between the Ottawa Aces XIII and the Toronto Wolfpack this year that will be its own conference this year. In 2022, both Ottawa and Toronto will join the East Conference of the NARL.

The teams in the East Conference this year are the Atlanta Rhinos, Brooklyn Kings, Atlanta Rhinos, Boston Thirteens, and the Washington DC Cavalry. The West Conference teams include the Austin Armadillos, Phoenix Venom, Las Vegas Blackjacks, Portland Loggers, San Diego Swell, and the San Francisco Rush (there was a pro rugby union team also called the San Francisco Rush in the now-defunct U.S. pro league called PRO Rugby).

Some of these teams have come from the USA Rugby League like Boston, Brooklyn, and Atlanta. There are also teams whose existence originated with the RFL (Rugby Football League) The Wolfpack was denied entry into the 2021 Super League season last year. This is while the Aces delayed their season by one year and is planning to play in League One next year. Then there is the New York Rugby League team, who like the Aces also had plans to enter the RFL. They will also be involved with the NARL.

Where does the transatlantic dream in North America stand?

This does not necessarily mean the transatlantic dream is dead. Ottawa has not given up on the RFL and League 1 according to Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun. There could be some cross-over between the RFL and the NARL teams (Ottawa plans to have both teams seen on Twitter). Aces President Eric Perez was contacted about the new league in late December.

“We weren’t looking for this, they came to us and wanted us in,” said Perez. “There was no hesitation when they told me the business plan, the cities involved, the commercial deals they’re putting together. They’re going to be a big player.”

He would later go on to say that this league could rival Super League very soon. He also said that: ‘Within five to 10 years, we could be the best rugby league in the northern hemisphere. That’s just because our market’s bigger.”

This is while a private group has decided to buy the intellectual property of the Toronto Wolfpack according to the Canadian Press. However, it is important to note that it will be a separate entity from the franchise that collapsed last year. Also, according to Baines’ article, there is a hope to have teams in Montreal, Vancouver, and also somewhere in Atlantic Canada in the future of the NARL.

Both Ottawa and Toronto will join the North American Rugby League in 2022. They are both going to start play though in 2021. There will be a Canada Series contested between both teams in August. This is because of COVID-19 restrictions that currently exist between Canada and the U.S.

North American Rugby League overview

For the 12 U.S.-based teams, their seasons will start in only two months. Recently, Eric Perez revealed in Baines’ article that there will be a high percentage of players that will be Canadian in the NARL team:

“Seventy-five percent of our team will be Canadian, hopefully most of them will be local,” said Perez. “That was something that wasn’t going to happen with the RFL team. I think people in Ottawa will love this, it’s huge.”

It is important to note that there is also the Canada Co-Operative Championship Rugby League (CCCRL), which also has plans to be a professional rugby league. They plan to have a short season in 2022 before having a full season in 2023. Also, the CCCRL unlike the NARL also plans to have a women’s division. Nevertheless, this is still big news in North America. The Wolfpack is reborn as a professional team. Also, the U.S. now has a pro rugby league to call their very own. It is also interesting that Canada will have teams in both the CCCRL and the NARL.

What this could mean for rugby league in the Americas

The best comparison of this might be Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Canadian Premier League (CPL). However, a big difference is that the three biggest cities in Canada – Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver got MLS teams before the CPL existed. So, this scenario for Canada may just be unique to rugby league. Maybe this could be a big opportunity to have a NARL-CCCRL club men’s competition. It would be a great way to promote the game of rugby league in Canada and the U.S.

It will also make the men’s national teams more competitive in Canada and the USA. Canada had never made the men’s Rugby League World Cup while the U.S. missed out on qualifying for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. The best performance USA (known as the USA Hawks) had was making it to the quarterfinals round of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. USA and Canada are two of the “Big Three” in the Americas. In the men’s rugby league, the U.S. is the highest-ranked team in the Americas at 18th while Canada (known as the Canada Wolverines) is the third-highest ranked Americas team. They are currently ranked 27th according to International Rugby League. Jamaica (known as the Reggae Warriors), who will make their Rugby League World Cup debut in 2021 is currently ranked 20th in the world.

Potential Rugby League World Cup in North America

There is also some other big news on the potential of growth in North America.

Troy Grant was recently elected as the new Chair of International Rugby League on March 30 according to International RL’s Twitter account. The game does need to grow more in North America, especially outside of Toronto. However, there are plans to do that in North America, which will most likely be in Canada and the U.S. There were plans to have a Rugby League World Cup in North America in 2025. Unfortunately, Jason Moore’s bid fell through according to Steve Mascord of Today Stale.

As the game grows in North America, one could expect Canada and the U.S. to possibly try to host the Rugby League World Cup. For example, France plans to host the Rugby League World Cup in 2025. Right now, though, a plan to co-host a Rugby League World Cup is probably the best plan going forward in Canada and the U.S. It is also important to note that hosting the 2029 Rugby League World Cup means hosting both the men’s and women’s World Cup. So, it would be great for a team like the Canada women’s national team (the Canada Ravens) to possibly try to win the 2029 Rugby League World Cup.

2021 North American Rugby League schedule

The 12 U.S. teams will start in the inaugural 2021 NARL season in just a few months. According to the Toronto Wolfpack, the league will play its first round of games on June 19 and 20. The games will be played in one venue for one day with no fans because of COVID-19. This is what NARL’s Head of Operations, Robert Curtis said about the league:

“The NARL is the culmination of years of research and market testing and has been designed to bring you the hardest-hitting, fastest and most exciting sport on the planet. Matches begin this summer. It’s time to get excited about a new class of contact sport.”

It is certainly an exciting time to be a rugby league fan in North America. A lot of incredibly positive developments were made in 2021. This included reviving the Wolfpack, which is the second-oldest pro rugby team of either code in the Americas. People can watch the games on SportsFlick, which is NARL’s exclusive online streaming service. The schedule of the league is on the NARL website along with the Canada Series between Toronto and Ottawa in 2021. The winner of the Canada Series goes to the playoffs of the North American Rugby League.


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