Today is the first installment of my series of interviews with passionate rugby league people involved in trying to grow the game outside its natural heartlands.
Unless you were living under a rock, couldn’t access 7mate or you listened to the naysayers you would have watched the rugby league world cup, and one of the great stories to come out of the tournament was the success from the USA Tomahawks.
Source: Warrington Guardian.
But numerous reports have emerged about US rugby league since: about clubs and management rifts, certain players not being picked for the tournament and there still being two competitions operating across the Pacific.
In a 26rounds exclusive I had a chat with Robin Peers about the game, his club — the Boston 13s — the split in the game and the possibility for the greatest game of all in the USA.
Interview with Robin Peers, Head Coach of the Boston 13s
MITCHELL 180: How did you become involved in rugby league and with the Boston 13s?
ROBIN PEERS: So I am originally from Newcastle in the UK. I played semi professionally and also worked with the RFL in Coach Development. I was helping to deliver a course for the RLEF in 2011 when I met Mik Shammas and Ben McHugh from the Boston 13s. They then recruited me as their head coach for 2012.
M180: What growth have you seen over your time with the club?
When I arrived in 2012 we built a great team and some great off-field structures too. The owner moved overseas after the season which meant we struggled a bit in 2013. We are all set for a BIG 2014 though! Both on and off the field.
M180: Being a semi professional sport, what is a typical crowd for games over there?
RP: I would say a typical crowd would be 100 spectators but when we were on our Grand Final run in 2012 we were getting maybe 200 towards the end of the year.
M180: Are the players paid? Properly insured as well? Are majority of players local Americans? Are there many expat Australians/New Zealanders or Englishmen?
RP: The players aren’t paid but we try and keep the costs as low as we can for them. The majority are American although we currently have one ex-pat Englishman. Most clubs bring in three imports each season, usually from Australia. With regards to your insurance question, they recently passed the Obamacare law here requiring each citizen to possess private medical insurance.
M180: Can the game grow with both the USARL and AMNRL in operation? And what are the chances of the competitions becoming one again?
RP: The only way the game can grow with two competitions is if they are both striving to be the best, developing new teams in new markets etc. It would probably be better to just have one competition and maybe that will happen further down the track.
M180: Whats the future with the Tomahawks with the current issues between the USARL and AMNRL ie: reports that the World Cup squad compromised because of said issues?
RP: I am really not sure of the plans with the Tomahawks but I do know that a LOT of domestic players were unhappy at being overlooked for the RLWC 2013 after putting in years of hard work representing their club and the national team.
M180: Has there been in a boost in the profile of the sport since the world cup?
RP: There certainly has in the rugby communities but not to a huge extent. The RLIF really dropped the ball by not having any RLWC 2013 TV coverage here in the US.
M180: Recently we’ve seen rugby league get the okay to be played in some schools in the Ukraine. What’s the current status of rugby league in schools in the Boston area? Could Touch Football and/or Nines be an alternative?
RP: We are desperate for rugby league to be introduced to schools here in Boston but the American Youth Rugby League Association (AYRLA) are focusing the majority of their delivery in Rhode Island right now. Touch or Nines could certainly be used.
M180: With the NFL concussion controversy, do you think rugby league can be seen as a less violent sport with lower rates of concussions?
RP: We would certainly hope so. It’s just at the moment no one really knows what rugby league is here as it’s not really on TV.
M180: With the success of the Auckland Nines, do you think an American team or the Tomahawks would want to participate?
RP: That would be awesome!
M180: Would more players coming to Australia/England (similar to arrangement Parramatta Eels have with BC Bulldogs) be a beneficial in helping player development?
RP: That would be great. As a club we are in the process of approaching a team in Australia about a twinning arrangement.
M180: What is the recruitment of players involve in places where people are simply unaware of it?
RP: We do a lot of recruiting through local rugby programs as our season only clashes with summer Sevens. We also try to think outside the box where we can to recruit new guys. I’ve seen guys recruited in bars before, on the street etc. You just have to be on the recruit 24/7.
M180: Where can you see the game fitting in the grand scheme of things? Do you see it as a potentially niche sport on the level of major league soccer? Or is it bigger than that, despite the entrenchment of the “Big 4” sports?
RP: Unfortunately I don’t think we will ever challenge the big 4 sports or soccer even. Soccer just has so much profile and cash globally right now. But there is no reason why Rugby League can’t exist alongside all of those plus rugby union and lacrosse too. Because we play in the summer we don’t clash at all with the NFL, NBA or NHL.
The Boston 13s are currently signing up members ($10+) and sponsors ($200+) for the 2014 season. Developing rugby league here is a costly business due to the travel and we very much appreciate any support we get!