The National Rugby Football League has become the biggest topic in the Rugby world. The possibility of creating a fully professionalized Rugby league has many in disarray. The level of doubt that is had for the league has been pretty magnanimous. Many unsure that the United States is properly ready for a league of this format.
Doubts from a major faction have always been prevalent when moving a sport from an amateur level to a professional level. The creation of the NFL was heavily doubted in the 1920’s. Taking money for play was considered unsportsmanlike and disrespectful. Rugby overseas was heavily fought on taking the sport professional, until it could no longer be held back in 1995. The fight to prevent the creation of professional Rugby organizations lead to the birth of the new code of Rugby known as Rugby League, during the late 19th century. Reluctance towards a full attempt to create a professional Rugby league is almost expected, if not somewhat necessary.
The NRFL combine, that was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from January 12-15, could be considered as the NRFL’s first major revelation to the greater Rugby community. Though this was their second combine, having held one on April 2014 in Minneapolis, the build up for the Los Angeles combine has created a greater buzz then ever before. Being host to 240 athletes, from across the United States, the combine looked to emphasize the statement that there should be no question to the commitment they have to success. Each combine lasted from 9:00am to 3:15pm, consisting of 9 different workouts and skills examinations including, 40 yard dash, 60 meter shuttle, tackling drills, 2 on 2 passing drills and bench press.
The NRFL combine opened up a new and possible pathway to attract more crossover athletes. Primarily athletes who play American Football. Many have seen the steady growth of Carlin Isles in the Sevens Rugby circuit, and more recently the rise of Perry Baker. The resource of athletes that are available in that sport are limitless. The NRFL has really made an effort to gather as many of these elite athletes as possible.
Whether the combine participants have Rugby experience or not, the NRFL officials believe that they can develop these athletes into efficient Rugby players. The immediate goal in mind for the NRFL is to prepare for the August 1, 2015, Independence Cup match up with Leicester Tigers. The NRFL’s hope to develop players in such a rapid manner will be its biggest challenge. The development of players that quickly would essentially mean that would have created a new means of development that could and would mean a new method of development. Though, most of what they expect is that elite athletes will be capable of learning based on repetition.
The NRFL also hopes to attract players from overseas. The addition of foreign free agents does play an important component to the concept of development for them. The combination of experienced players and new elite athletes would bring a refreshing balance to the game that could help facilitate the development of the new players.
In addition to the development of players, the other concern that people are having about the NRFL is the inconsistent nature of viewership of Rugby in the United States. While Rugby has been more prevalent on TV, with the HSBC Las Vegas International Rugby Sevens Tournament and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships coming on annually, and feature games like the USA Eagles vs. New Zealand All-Blacks match in November. The TV ratings for these have been no higher than 0.7 which translates to just over 900,000 viewers. The NRFL will have to market very closely to address these concerns. The NRFL belief has been that US consumers want to see the best product available, and as long as that is provided, they will come to watch the sport.
If looking at this NRFL combine is an indication towards what we can expect from the NRFL, then there is plenty to be hopeful about. The combine gives the feeling of an atmosphere of professionalism and organization. One of the biggest take aways was the investment in presentation. Utilizing the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium was a great foundation to show the lofty ambitions that NRFL has to attain and the drive to achieve these ambitions as well.