Rugby training gear is shown during a Torotno Wolfpack during a practice at Lamport Stadium in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson

Organizers announce formation of 14-team pro North American Rugby League

Organizers announce formation of 14-team pro North American Rugby League

A new professional rugby league circuit is set to kick off this summer in North America.

Organizers of the North American Rugby League say play will begin in June with 12 American teams. Two Canadian franchises, in Toronto and Ottawa, are slated to join in 2022.

The Toronto team will be known as the Wolfpack but will be a separate entity from the franchise that collapsed last year after standing down in July from England’s Super League due to financial problems.

A private group has purchased the intellectual property of the Wolfpack, whose bid to re-enter the Super League in 2022 under new ownership was voted down in November.

“They want to give the city back the team that was there but put it back in a way where it’s going to last,” Gary Sloane, the NARL’s chief commercial officer, said in an interview from England.

The other Canadian franchise will be the Ottawa Aces, who are slated to join the third tier of English rugby league next year. Ottawa president Eric Perez said the Aces could field teams in both the North American and English leagues.

“I’m not guaranteeing that’s going to happen. But we’re going to be 100 per cent in the NARL,” Perez, a longtime rugby league enthusiast who founded the Wolfpack before establishing his own team in Ottawa, said in an interview. “COVID pending, we’ll be in the RFL (England’s Rugby Football League), but obviously COVID is a major factor. in that.”

The NARL will play rugby league, the 13-player rugby code that is mainly played in England, Australia and New Zealand, along with some presence in France and the Pacific Islands. Major League Rugby, a 12-team North American circuit in its fourth year with the Toronto Arrows the lone Canadian entry, plays rugby union — the more popular 15-player version of the game that is featured every four years in the Rugby World Cup.

The NARL’s East Coast Conference will comprise of the Atlanta Rhinos, Boston Thirteens, Brooklyn Kings, Cleveland Rugby League, New York Rugby League and Washington Cavalry. The Canadian teams will join the East in 2022.

The West Coast Conference will feature the Austin Armadillos, Las Vegas Blackjacks, Phoenix Venom, Portland Loggers, San Diego Swell and San Francisco Rush.

NARL organizers say the first round of U.S. competition will start June 19 in Brooklyn and June 20 in Las Vegas. Games will continue to be played in one stadium on one day this season with no fans due to COVID-19.

The teams will play a 20-game schedule during the shortened 2021 campaign.

Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, the Canadian teams won’t join in 2021. Instead Toronto and Ottawa are working on meeting in a “Canada Cup” on home soil, possibly in August.

Perez said while there are different ownership groups, league organizers will hold an small ownership stake in some teams.

Sloane said those behind the league itself include a private group which plans to operate at arm’s length. Perez described the backers as “very solid.”

As for the teams themselves, Sloane said many former and current players are involved in the operation, citing U.S. rugby league internationals Mark Offerdahl, Nick Newlin and Ryan Burroughs, a former Wolfpack player.

“They’re just generally good guys who want to do the right thing with the game and have a business partner behind them that’s helping guide them from that point of view.” said Sloane.

Sloane said those behind the Wolfpack are “a private set of investors” mostly from the U.S. but including a Canadian.

“They’re trying to do everything from scratch,” he said. “They’re trying to put their front office and back office together at the moment.”

“It’s a totally new formation,” he added, “Nothing to do with the previous (owners) … They’re in their infancy. We’re going to have to work very hard with them over the next couple of months to get them where they need to be to be ready to play the Canada Cup competition with Ottawa.”

An email to the new Wolfpack referred all queries to Sloane.

The NARL will have a salary cap, which “is never going to get out of hand,” said Sloane. Just how much teams can spend for Season 1 will be announced in the next week or so.

Sloane says his background comes from the commercial side of soccer.

“What I like about rugby is it hasn’t been ruined by finance, as some sports have,” he said. “It’s very ground. The people within it are very wholesome, very grounded.

NARL games will be broadcast via the SportsFlick online streaming service.

Bob Jowett, chairman of the Canada Rugby League Association, said the NARL has his group’s support given a condition of teams joining the new league is supporting grassroots development.

“The formation of a North American professional rugby league competition has long been discussed and is considered to be a key progression for the sport,” he said.

Perez said while the new league will feature international players, it will have a “major focus” on domestic talent. That will mean a steep learning curve given how few North Americans currently play the game.

—-

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

rugby

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer property owners will receive their 2019 property assessment notices in the next few days.  (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer awaiting more details on how federal budget impacts city

The City of Red Deer is awaiting more information on how much… Continue reading

With a ban on sit-in dining once again in place, Las Palmeras owner Andre Lemus is gearing up for more takeout and delivery business. He has also applied to set up an outdoor patio, where dining is allowed under new restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Big interest in outdoor patios in Red Deer as sit-down dining banned again

City of Red Deer has tweaked its patio regulations to make it easier to get a permit

Artist Delree Dumont has painted an Indigenous mural at St. Joseph High School. (Contributed photo)
Indigenous mural painted on Red Deer high school walls

A new Indigenous mural now sits on the walls of St. Joseph… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Canada's Brendan Bottcher dropped a 6-3 decision to Scotland's Bruce Mouat in the men's final of the Humpty's Champions Cup. Bottcher makes a shot against Scotland at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Stewart Cink watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) motions to the crowd during a break to mark his passing Gordie Howe for most NHL games played in the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley announces proposed new legislation to protect Alberta's mountains and watershed from coal mining at a news conference in Calgary on Monday, March 15, 2021. A group of 35 scientists from the University of Alberta are urging the provincial government to rethink its plans for expanding coal-mining in the Rocky Mountains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta legislature turns down Opposition request to debate bill to protect Rockies

Alberta legislature turns down Opposition request to debate bill to protect Rockies

Premier John Horgan arrives to receive a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty's Foods in Victoria on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. to impose travel restrictions until May long weekend over COVID-19

B.C. to impose travel restrictions until May long weekend over COVID-19

Liz Weston: How the pandemic has shaken up retirement

Liz Weston: How the pandemic has shaken up retirement

Most Read