USA Rugby League

By Daniel Andruczyk

So as the saying goes, “Famous last words”. Thus I said these  on Monday when wrote that “rumours of a split in the AMNRL have died down”. Well Rugby League in the USA has now officially fractured into two groups. Now this article I will be treading carefully. I will not be giving any opinions either way for two reasons. First that the info here is only from one side , the USARL and I am still waiting to hear from the AMNRL their version of events. Secondly I want to stay impartial and be able to report on both sides as I do with Italy and any other split. Once I have all the info I will then write an opinion piece breaking things down.

USARL is formed

So as we saw in yesterdays announcement, seven out of the twelve existing AMNRL clubs (I say twelves since the Bucks County Sharks have come back in the fold) have left the AMNRL: These are Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, New Haven, Washington, Fairfax and Boston and Philadelphia. This leaves Connecticut, New York, Aston, Bucks County, Northern Raiders (apparently renamed New York Raiders now). There are rumours as of Monday that an eighth team will break away and join the USARL. The USARL will also have two new teams join its ranks the New York Kodiaks and New Jersey Knights. This will give it a 10 team strong competition and the inaugural season will be in 2011.

Having spoken to people from two of the breakaway clubs, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, its my understanding that the reasons for the split comes down essentially to one reason – The Star Group –  and its control over all things AMNRL. The Star Group is a Promotions company that was brought in Last year by David Niu to promote the AMNRL and Rugby League in the USA. It runs the We Are Rugby website which heavily promotes the AMNRL. It also took control of any merchandising of the clubs, it was going to market and promote and the proceeds supposedly go back to the clubs. The AMNRL website was to be re-vamped as well as websites of other clubs. In essence none of this came about and in frustratingly clubs were losing money and sponsors because of it.

The Atlantic Cup last year, however, which should have been organised and run by Star Group and the AMNRL was put onto the Jacksonville Club. They were OK with that but the merchandise that they had developed was not allowed to be used and only Star Group merchandise was used. The Axemen agreed to this but ended seeing no proceeds from the sales of merchandise and ended up losing money on the venture it turns out.

In general the clubs were not happy with the way the whole thing was being run and organised, with no merchandise and no AMNRL website clubs were losing money and un able to attract sponsorship. On the 21st of January a league meeting was to be had for the 2011 season. All had to RSVP by the 7th and had to accept that Star Group would run everything. It was at this point that a letter was sent out to David Niu and the AMNRL members asking for transparency, to see where the money was and was going so that teams could plan themselves for obtaining funds to travel. This was refused.

There has also been an issue as I understand with no one from the clubs or outside the Star Group could input ideas on the running of the AMNRL and how to best suit the clubs and competition in its future development. There has been no transparency or information within the AMNRL on any of the negotiations regarding TV deals and the professional competition. This in the end has led to 7 clubs saying if they cant get transparency then they will break away.

As we have seen the split happened and so this means that the USARL demands were not met.

Speaking to Glenn Csonka (pr. Zonka) from the Pittsburgh Sledgehammers team (formerly Vipers), they said that basically they want the clubs to have a say in the running of the competition. They also need to be able to control their own merchandising, and having a league website that is updated regularly so they can point sponsors towards it. Money is of an essence for these clubs, for travel and for hiring grounds, uniforms etc… and they were losing that revenue.

When covering the Atlantic Cup in Jacksonville last year, there were a few rumblings about the fact that the Axemen were the ones footing the bill. There was no split talk at that time either, just to be clear but you could sense that there was tension in the air at times over some things.

The clubs in the new USARL will have a more direct involvement in the running of the game. There will be a democratic process in stalled where by clubs will have a voice and have a vote in how the new organisation is run. Each club will also be responsible for its own merchandising, this way they have control on one of their main revenue streams and if they don’t get any merchandising up and running then its their fault and no one else’s to blame. A meeting of the new USARL will be held by all the clubs involved on the 29th of January in Philadelphia and will set the competition schedule and iron out the details of the new organisation and competition.


As for the the Tomahawks and International game. The AMNRL has an international against Ireland in March, however the bulk of that team has now switched to the USARL. From what I understand the USARL clubs will not stand in the way if players will be selected and want to play in the March game. The legalities of this however I don’t know and will not comment on. I have seen tweets from the Philadelphia Fight saying they will not stand in the way of their players wanting to play in March. The big question now will be, however, how will the RLIF perceive this split?

Rugby League Super Bowl?

I did ask the question to Glenn and Ken DeLucia at Pittsburgh if there could be the possibility of the two organisations existing side by side, and at the end of the season have a “Super Bowl” type game where the champions of the two competitions come together to decide the best team in the country. They certainly were not against the idea and felt ultimately it could be a positive for the game.

David Niu’s Efforts Recognised

David Niu’s efforts are recognised. The Pittsburgh guys certainly say they appreciate all the work the last 13 years David has put in, but now that change is needed if the sport will go ahead. I also have had some correspondence from Darryl “Spinner” Howland from the Jacksonville Club. One of the the things that he emphasised was that the USARL initiative was not led by him or the Axemen but a group effort led by 9 clubs which wanted to have more of a say in their future and have a voice in the AMNRL – the outcome not being favourable for them they have separated. Spinner says that the clubs have now formed a “Co-operative league” that gives each member club an equal voice. Spinner went on to say that “We (nor I directly) did not lead the charge as reported in many – ‘rumoured and assumed’ statements – we are equally one of 9 ”.


So basically it all has come down to this, that the Star Group allegedly took control of the AMNRL promising much and delivering little but since nothing was transparent and no one was able to get a look into the running of things, clubs wanting to see the workings and finances were denied and so broke away to form a new USARL competition. The new USARL will give clubs a greater say in where the sport goes and also control of merchandising, which is an important revenue stream, will also be given back to the clubs. There will be a new website which will be updated regularly as to help with the attraction of sponsorship.

So this is the insight I have been able to get on the USARL. I am now waiting upon the AMNRL to give their version of events. This will hopefully give RLIS readers food for thought and make up their mind where things should be. Once all this is done I will have my own say on the whole situation. It’s imperative that this site is kept impartial and allows both sides to be heard.

Daniel Andruczyk’s email:
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55 Responses to “USA Rugby League”

  1. C.T.SANDERS says:

    Well america is big enough to have 5 competitions at once and we had the same scenario in russia in the mid-90’s with kelanbanov runing one section of the game and alex kolikov runing the other, the euro-asia section.
    Here in nz we have splits and still have and as far as i’m concerned barla and the professional game have always been at loggerheads for years and years and in the mid-80’s the professional game tried to squash barla.
    At least barla tries to spread the game unlike the professional clubs who are only interested in their own patch and refuse to see the big picture and the warriors here in auckland are the classic example.The 2 owners are bigger than the game.
    America will come good in the long term because unlike here people are there for the good of the game.

    • druzik says:

      Don’t be si sure on all your assertions.

      I got an insight last night into some of the up hill battles Rugby League has here. Its not as big as its made out to be.

      • Rampart66 says:

        Absolutely right, Dan!

        The problem with US rugby stares me in the face every time that I frequent message boards or blogs concerning the AMNRL or USARL.

        With the exception of the people actually involved in the game (and friends and families), where are the fans? Sure there are a lot of people from New Zealand, Australia, England and the South Pacific posting comments. But where are the American fans? Where are the people that should be coming to the games and have an opinion on the sport like they would any of the other major US sports?

        This is what both leagues need to work on…drawing in the people (and just not those from overseas), and teach them the game.

        Rugby has been in the US since the late 1800s, the problem is that Walter Camp came along and morphed it into American Football. But the basic elements remain and I think the potential is huge.

      • druzik says:

        That is a very good observation… and you are right, the American fans have to be the target. I can say this from my experiences at the Atlantic Cup, thyere are many genuine American RL fans down there…. and not just friends and family of players, but there is a genuine (is small) Rugby league culture building there.

        I cant say anything for any other clubs as I haven’t been to their games yet so wont comment on that.

  2. Cheyne Maher says:

    Thanks for the update Dan!

  3. ParraEelsNRL says:

    Lets just hope it all works out for the betterment of the game, It wouldn’t matter if they had 4 different leagues, as long as they work together and show no bias when picking the national team.

    And for gods sake, please please please get some DO’s over there to get the children playing the game.

  4. KeighleyWeb says:

    Let us hope that this can be sorted out quickly. A strong base in the USA is necessary for our game and I can see future sponsors holding back in case they put money into the wrong confederation.

    • druzik says:

      Yes, agree. Speaking with some of the Pittsburgh people last night they are always open to dialogue… which they say has been severely lacking in the AMNRL so far.

      • JohsonPI says:

        Correct me if I am wrong, but wasnt Pittsburgh one of the weakest programs in the AMNRL? Lets not put so much stress on the words of a struggling program.

      • druzik says:

        They were one of the weaker teams, but there are other more established teams that also struggle.

        What I have given out is not the Pittsburgh greivences, its the greivences of all 7 teams, its just that I had the Pittsburgh team check and verify what I wrote was correct… and they did that because I was in Pittsburgh this week doing some work so took the opportunity to meet them and get these things checked.

        As I say I will be happy to publish anything the AMNRL gives me.

  5. John says:

    The previous situation regarding the Star Group, if to be believed, is truly woeful.

    I think the clubs have done the right thing, here.

  6. Jeff Eberle says:

    All I can say is the split has added another major obstacle to overcome for those of us trying to starting RL clubs in the USA. This has put all of us in a very bad spot of having to “pick a side” when pressure and stress to get our clubs going was already high enough. The split may be a step forward for some, but it is major a step back for us.

    • Rampart66 says:

      I really don’t know how this hurts the Denver Wolverines. It seems that WAMNRL has a plan for the western competition and a new league shouldn’t effect those plans at all.

      Besides if you are given a choice as to what league that you participate in, isn’t that better than being forced to play in one league with the only other choice being not playing at all?

    • druzik says:

      Maybe not Jeff, if the AMNRL are smart they could end up having this as a positive as well as you guys.

      I dont think you have to pick a side as such as you say, I dont see why Denver cant play and have games with both sides.

      I am still wanting to come to Denver next month, we can at least have a chat.

    • fatwing15 says:

      On the other side, it does give clubs that are not affiliated with either, a chance to take a step back and figure out which league is best for them. It seems that both leagues will be fairly strong, and the more options the better.

  7. Dawalt says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong as I am looking at this from afar but…Didn’t the Pittsburgh Vipers only join the league last year & could only field a team for 3 games & forfeiting the rest of them?

    If thats is the case, I dont understand why he would be complaining about “transparency or information within the AMNRL on any of the negotiations regarding TV deals” because if I was a TV exec I wouldn’t invest in that product.

    • druzik says:

      Well that is something to ask them I suppose.

      But if I understand them correctly, its that when asked for help from the AMNRL and wanting to have some input and questions they got none and were denied.

      I will say this, if 7/11 clubs leave en-mass, it cant just be sour grapes… there has to be something fundamentally wrong no?

      I want to hear the AMNRL’s version before I make any public opinion of my own.

      • fatwing15 says:

        This would not surprise me. From what I have seen the clubs relied on themselves for all resources. If they could not produce those resources on their own, there was little help, but again, this is an amateur league, I am not sure if the AMNRL had the resources themselves to help struggling clubs

      • druzik says:

        See that is something we could hear from the AMNRL.

      • dragons4eva says:

        “it cant just be sour grapes… there has to be something fundamentally wrong no?”

        Exactly Druzik.

        Not taking sides as you said, however there wouldn’t be a split in the camp unless there was tension between the troops. One group has upset another group for various reasons. Let’s just hope they’re solved ASAP because we don’t wanna lose the United States.

      • druzik says:

        Yep, I hope that I get the AMNRLs response soon.

    • Rampart66 says:

      Pittsburgh forfeited one game last season (the last game against New York). They played 4 games (home against Boston and Fairfax and oat to DC and Fairfax). Washington DC didn’t come up for the opener (which was a forfeit for them).

      The AMNRL made a few promises before he season that weren’t kept. One of those was discounted prices on kits.

      There was also the website issue. A few sponsors were lost when they went to the AMNRL website and didn’t think that the league was a legitimate entity to donate any money towards.

      Part of the transparency, I believe came from the merchandising thing. A memo was put out that said the AMNRL/Star Group would control the creation and distribution of merchandise.

      You had to buy shirts from them with a minimum order of $720 for 72 shirts. ($10 per shirt/sell for $20). $720 is a lot of money to put up front and it’s a lot of merchandise for a new club to move before you see any profit.

      I think the TV contract was pretty much a non-issue with them.

  8. dragons4eva says:

    Thanks for the update Dan, hopefully we’ll get to hear what the AMNRL have to say about it all.

    • druzik says:

      Well yes I hope I get their version soon as well, but if Twitter is anything to go by a AMNRL member/s is threatening legal action on me.

      • shaun says:

        Hahaha yeah i just seen that on twitter dan.
        Vassy sure does let it all out on twitter.
        Quite idiotic, and further shows how immature and ammateur the AMNRL is.
        Why doesnt the AMNRL just tell their side of the story, so then it can all be cleared up.
        Especially since u did make the trip down to jacksonville for the atlantic cup, took pics, filmed it, wrote articles etc …
        You helped them out.
        It is really giving me the shits, and making me dislike Niu, Vassy, Star Group and the AMNRL.

      • druzik says:

        Well look I have nothing against anyone in either of the organisation.

        I have met Vassy and to tell you the truth that twitter account does not sound at all like Vassy.

        Look I will still make the trip to all the internationals this year, I will report film and photo as usual.

        I am not taking sides.

  9. Kingsland7 says:

    Ok Dan, curiosity is really getting the best of me, what exactly did the AMNRL twitter if I may ask?

    I really wish the IRLF had the resources to pay closer attention to nations like the USA so problems like this didn’t occur. Sounds like Russia all over again.

    • druzik says:

      OK well its out in the public I guess, if you go on twitter and do a search for @vassy13

      vassy13 Jan 14, 10:19am via txt
      Read another poorly written misinformed article on a nonsense website today…

      vassy13 Jan 14, 10:22am via txt
      The writer should consider removing it as a certain groups lawyers are looking at it…

      He does go onto say later

      vassy13 Jan 14, 2:07pm via txt
      It’s funny how in these articles and press releases that one mans name is ALWAYS in them….Mr.Hubris

      vassy13 Jan 14, 2:11pm via txt
      Lets not forget Mr.Hubris sidekick, Mr.Spineless with his permed mullet

      vassy13 Jan 14, 3:27pm via txt
      Anyone watch Seinfeld? Did’nt George Kastanza try to impress people by saying he was in the Import/Export business?

      vassy13 Jan 14, 3:17pm via txt
      In the words of president Obama ”You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”

      and then lastly, in fairness he did finish off with

      vassy13 Jan 14, 5:01pm via txt
      Here s a warning to all u twitterers,never tweet drunk,it can get u in trouble….in more ways than 1

      The RLIF is basically the AR:L and NRL and in reality they do not care that much of the international game outside of Australia, England and New Zealand. you just have to look at all the decision made internationally in the last few years with eligibility, rule changes and the way the game is run.

      • deluded pom? says:

        I’ve only read your blog on the USARL grievances once dru but from what I can see is that you are merely reporting one side of the story. They are not your opinions but those of the clubs who chose to leave the AMNRL. I can’t see any legal issues there. You are also giving the AMNRL the chance to reply in kind but they choose to do so through social networking sites. Enough said. I also can’t recall seeing anything derogatory written by the mulleted one. I’m sure he’s wiser than some of the AMNRL henchmen when it comes down to libel issues.

      • juro says:

        I see Vassy has now increased security on his tweets…

      • druzik says:

        Hmm, well if you have a proper look at I am not totally convinced it’s Vassy.

        But either way, vassy is an assistant coach to the Tomahawks and Bulls and its still highly improper what he was saying.

        Though I do like his use of Greek mythology, except I think he didn’t know the real meaning and definitions of the words used.

  10. Rodney McDonell says:

    This sounds like a good idea. I don’t want to imply that the previous administration was doing a bad job, but I think in all organisations there comes a time when you need to reinvent yourself. The AMNRL has had a few good years, but it’s clear that there has been some stagnation, despite the progress. I’d love the USARL to be associated with the AMNRL eventually. Having two competitions could be good in America, if not at least because it increases your chances of success.

  11. C.T.SANDERS says:

    The people trying to spread the game in the usa know a bit about the game unlike here in nz with the appointment of the present nzrl board and the 7 zones which were all appointed by the government dept sparc after the so called enquiry into the overall govrnance of new zealand rugby league led by sir john anderson whch was a whitewash.Sparc is known as craps in these parts.
    The atlantic cup proved the potential of rugby league in north america and the carribean of course the irlf ain’t interested, but if the people in america broker a huge tv deal or if a billionaire comes on board soon, then they will all become interested i give you lot the tip.
    Bees to a honeypot.
    We all saw this in russia before and the pigs around the trough from abroad stuffed it all up and they were all the same pigs around the trough that sent the original auckland warriors broke as well.
    My tip be warey of people from abroad if american rl strikes gold and that lot smells any kind of money about.

  12. To make it clear that I am NOT about to go over details of all the items that lead us to the move to the USARL, nor the operations of the Atl Cup, but in fairness to BOTH sides I did feel it important that you heard the FACTS on some of the items in this blog from the “horses mouth” so to speak.

    #1 The Axemen did agree to operate and host the Atlantic Cup in both 2009 and 2010. The RL Atl Cup has always been OUR idea, event and development and we understood the risk of hosting it. We did NOT ask for support from the AMNRL or Star Group with capital (nor was it offered). We did run at a lose with the event, but we make NO accusations that we were forced to host it NOR were we promised operating capital.
    #2 We DID sell an OFFICIAL Event T-shirt using the OFFICIAL RL Atl Cup logo that was agreed to by the Title Sponsor (Hotels of Jacksonville) and all proceeds from those sales went into the event to help cover event costs. We also sold remaining Axemen items from our 2010 season that we also put towards event costs as this essentially is an Axemen Organization event.
    #3 Star Group did produce an “alternate” Atl Cup logo that they put on shirts for sale on-line and then also at the event – none of THIS revenue was returned to the event budget. We did “begrudgingly” agree to this after initially presenting concerns that it would take away some revenue from the event and did NOT include the Title Sponsor logo. We did finally agree to allow its sale to “keep the peace” and due to David Niu (AMNRL President) wishes and also that at that time (and still) we did not fully understanding the amount of control that had been assumed by Star Group in the AMNRL brand and operations.
    #4 Shirts with the USA, Jamaican and Canadian National Team logos were also produced by Star Group and offered for sale at the event and we want to make it clear the any discussions between those nations and Star Group were their own and we did not receive, nor ask, for commission on those sales.
    We had NO issue with a shirt for each Nation (USA, Canada and Jamaica) being produced and sold for each team as we assume that each nation would be given a commission on those sales (Again we did NOT take part in those discussions). However, due to it ALWAYS being our plan (that we made very clear to all parties) that we were going to produce an EVENT SHIRT for sale to bring a much needed revenue stream into the event, it was the competing EVENT logo and Shirt that we were not “overly excited” about. (Again – in the end we agreed, and in hind sight we should have been more insistent on it not being produced or offered)
    #5 Star Group DID pay for the production crew to put the game live on the internet, but in return we had to agree to allow them to “exclusively” stream the event at their website and not allow it to stream anywhere else. We had planned to produce and stream on the JAXAXE ustream as we do for all our games and thus attract viewers to our site and reap the rewards of that – but again due to David Niu giving us direction to accept the Star Group “deal” we agreed. We have no issue with this deal as Star Group wanted to use the exclusive stream to attract people to their “we are rugby” site, and by paying for the production they essentially paid for that exclusivity.
    We had however asked for some live sponsor reads during the broadcast that had been agreed to prior to Star Group assuming “ownership” of the production, and some of those sponsor reads did NOT happen as asked. Read sheets were handed directly to the Star Group representative with a clear explanation of why these reads were important and that they were for MAJOR sponsors who had financially supported the event. This WAS noticed by at TWO sponsor that had been expecting it and we addressed that with Star Group after the event and are in the process of retaining those sponsors for the Axemen in 2011.
    It is important to remember that the RL Atl Cup was, and is, an international event that promotes Rugby League in the USA on a global scale. This is one of the main reasons the Axemen have hosted for two years. And in addition to the “exposure” that the AMNRL gets from this event, we certainly understand the increased branding of our club and the Axemen brand. However, it is also important to note that 95% of all revenue for the event comes from AXEMEN sponsors and fans that we reach out too in our market to fund these events. We use the success of the Axemen to encourage them to support this as an additional event and thus allow us to host it on behalf of Rugby League in the USA. We are grateful to them for allowing us this opportunity.

    I would also like to clear up the events costs we underwrote – accommodations for all three teams, visiting officials and some VIPS. 7 days of venue rental that included main playing field and two practice fields, locker rooms, pool and gym use. Minimum of 2 meals per day for all teams and a third meal on game days via the post match function. Airport transfer for all above people, ground transportation for the week for all three teams, training equipment, game day ambulance, event medical staff, ticket operation, venue security on game day, ground announcer and other operations costs. We also covered all wages for officials during games.

    We must also recognize the RLF for providing airfare for Phil Bentham and to Alan Chmielewski from the AMNRL officials for his airfare.

  13. C.T.SANDERS says:

    We are happy what you have achieved in america in reguards to rugby league spinner.
    It has been a miracle and just like joel morgan in italy your blood’s worth bottling.
    If you lot had the same resources as the Auckland Rugby Board of Control with millions and millions and millions in the bank the sky would be the limit.

  14. tax_dodger says:

    well if the tomahawks aren’t gonna pick usarl players, then surely games won’t be played at the hodges stadium in jacksonville, which would be a big loss to us rl.

    at the end of the day, egos need to be put aside for the good of the game. having two separate leagues can’t be too bad, after all, you can’t expect usa to have just one league. they need to have several regional leagues feeding into one federation.

  15. C.T.SANDERS says:

    OK tax dodger.You know more about than me and of course jacksonville is the nerve centre of the game in america.
    No split in any sport is good but somehow rugby league seems to come through despite the obstacles in the way.
    Is there any rugby league in miami?

    • druzik says:

      Jacksonville is not the nerve center, Pennsylvania and New York are, 8 clubs come from that region alone.

    • Rugger says:

      Let’s face it, the only reason ANY type of rugby is popular in Jacksonville, FL is because they essentially have nothing else there. There’s the UF football team in the fall and the Jacksonville Jaguars which are one of the few NFL franchises who can’t sell out every home game during the season. People keep trying to make the JaxAxe some perfect model for success and the reality is, they succeed because there’s nothing else there to compete in that market.

      • druzik says:

        Well, I dont think anyone is saying that the Axemen is the be-all end-all model to use. Different cities and clubs will use different models. The fact that they have been able to take advantage of the fact, as you claim, there is nothing else there to me seems like damn great move. Its not a bad thing but a good thing, they have been able to move and occupy a vacuum that was there.

        So Jacksonville now has three sports to cover 3/4 of the year … so am not sure why your making that out to be a bad thing? If teams in the AMNRL and USARL were smart then they would try and do similar things!

  16. Yeah... says:

    $750,000… He who knows what this means knows deep down why this happened.

  17. Interested Observer says:

    Good to see Spinner provide some information.

    C.T, stay on topic fella, no need to always throw in a reference to NZ in a USA article.

    The Twitter stuff is not the best way for a RL organisation to be having a dig at others, it is very unprofessional and someone at the AMNRL should put a stop to it. It would be good to hear Niuy’s side of things so that players and fans in the USA and interested fans elsewhere get both sides of this story.

    Lets just hope it gets resolved soon as this will hurt RL in the USA and it presents expansion teams with an unfair situation.

    • druzik says:

      Well seems that Niuy and Vassy now are putting blocks on their tweets so you cant track what they say lol.

      I do hope to get Niu’s side of the story, be great to hear the AMNRL side.

  18. Juan Jasso says:

    I am interested to know how good is the US team ? and how they intend to do there selections?

    I am an American playing Rugby League in the UK and playing at a very good standard. I have been here for some time and have played rugby for 6 years now. I am attending my Rugby Leauge coaching level 2 over here and I have a sporting degree.. I would love to know how to get involved with promoting rugby and making it a big sport in the US.

  19. Chris Sanders says:

    And there’s also nothing in Orlando apart from a Basketball franchise Rugger and an ideal place to start off Rugby League.
    The USA played Canada there some time ago.

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