American Civil War Wages On


YOU know how it was supposed to happen.
The United States Tomahawks would shrug off criticism that they were just a bunch of Aussies who went to a bucks weekend in Vegas, capture the hearts of everyone at the World Cup, make the quarter-finals and with the glow of their success still bright, we would have and end to the American Civil War.
And Apple Pope, Curtis Cunz, Spinner Howland and everyone else in our rich cast of colourful characters would live happily every after.
At this early juncture, it’s important to fill in those who have more going on their lives than the political situation in an amateur competition played on parks in the most powerful nation on earth.
There are two leagues, right? One is the AMNRL, established by former Australian first grader David Niu, which is the officially recognised body for the game in the United States. They sent the aforementioned Tomahawks to the World Cup, where they indeed made the quarter-finals and warmed the cockles of most hearts.
Niu has since left to promote arena (American) football in Vhina. Connecticut Wildcats owner – and prop – Curtis Cunz has replaced him as league chairman.
The other competition is the USARL, which broke away three years ago in response to what it described as the autocratic administration of the AMNRL. The rebellion was led by the champion club in the AMNRL, the Jacksonville Axemen.
Its chairman is Australian Peter Ilfield.
Now, back to our central narrative: there was a committee formed to negotiate a ceasefire, an independent commission was nominated and then …. nothing. Two months on, we still have two leagues and emails being leaked which suggest the AMNRL is falling apart.
Our mission here, which we have accepted, is to figure out what went wrong. There are two broad theories I heard during my time in the US in January. One: that the USARL lost faith in the democratic power of their AMNRL counterparts. The other is that the USARL clubs got cold feet in handing over power to the independent commission.
“I would say it leans 80-20 towards the first one you said,” Illfield tells Forty20 by phone from Philadelphia.
When negotiations were at a delicate stage, AMNRL team New York Raiders issued a media release declaring their “independence” from the negotiations and describing the AMNRL as “defunct”. Independence from an independent commission? It could only happen in rugby league.
“When you are talking unification, you are talking a merger, right? And when you merge with someone, you merge your assets with theirs’,” says Illfield. “During the course of negotiations, it became apparent there was a doubt over exactly what assets the AMNRL had.
“Two or three of their clubs came out distancing themselves from the negotiations. There seemed to be a degree of dysfunction there.
“We found themselves asking: what is the nature of this organisation? Is it an organisation at all?”
This no doubt contributed to the cold feet of the USARL clubs. They felt their fate was going to be guided for the next 12 months by an organisation in which a “dysfunctional” league had a big say. Support for the deal evaporated.
Instead, the USARL thought it best to strike while the iron was hot (the only think hot in North America this winter) and invite the quarrelling AMNRL clubs to join them. At the same time, fortuitously for the rebel competition, there was expansion in the south east with Tampa, Atlanta and central Florida joining the comp.
Atlanta have partnered with Leeds and be known as the Atlanta Rhinos.
The Invitation For Unification read: “The board of the USARL LLC has resolved to open the 2014 competition to all interested clubs in the eastern United States as well as announcing a Regional Conference in the southeast.
“Each club will become a member under the Constitution of the USARL and will have representation on the USARL board.
“The 2014 competition is expected to be based on a 10 week schedule between June and August including playoffs and a Championship Final. While the overall structure has yet to be finalized, the competition will be limited to the east coast in an effort to reduce both cost and travel with the establishment of smaller conferences within regions. The aim is for Conference schedules to operate with ALL regular season home and away games played in local regions culminating in cross-conference playoffs and and finals.”
Just last week, a leaked email from the New York Knights attacked the foreign influence in the AMNRL and the Tomahawks.
“No offense to our friends in Australia but we want the game in America to be run exclusively by people who can physically be present at every game,” said ‘G’ – who appears to be Knights coach Guillaume Cieutat.
That missive was clearly aimed at Steve Johnson, the Aussie who assembled the Tomahawks and who is also behind the Queensland western corridor NRL franchise bid. While it may appears the AMNRL is heading toward the bizarre position of running a national team but no clubs, Cunz tells Forty20 via facebook the establishment league is going nowhere.
“Why the merger fell through was totally not on us,” Cunz writes.
“All their representatives agreed with me and the AMNRL representatives to a structure on paper. Then it went sour for done reason when it went back to their clubs. I don’t know why.
“I don’t really want to focus on the past, I’m not going to get in this pointing-the-finger game like they are trying to do to us. It’s too childish
“Believe me when I say I’m personally not going to quit in trying to give what the players from both players want….and that’s a merge. We just want to play other teams like we did not to long ago.
“I have all my teams on board with my vision and what in doing here despite what the USARL tries to do to us by sending team owners emails, (making) phone calls, or by using blogs to make its look bad.”
The AMNRL will soon announce its competition structure for 2014. It continues to run the only recognised US national team. As things stand, it considers USARL players for selection after initially omitting them.
“The Rugby League International Federation has asked us to keep it updated with what we are doing,” says Illfield.
But like international rugby league elswhere, the Tomahawks don’t actually have any matches in their schedule for this year yet. And at the time of writing, neither does either competition.
Rugby league is, indeed, a funny game. So it’s probably best just to have a laugh.


  1. I am normally a fan of your reporting but this is a bit of a shallow article in sections Steve. It belittles the USARL and their dedicated efforts to advance the game in the USA. Why refer to them as a rebel league? That is not the case. They were a group of very dedicated players, administrators, coaches and team managers, many with years of RL experience who were not satisfied with the manner in which the AMNRL or the game was being run. The lack of transparency by the AMNRL was also very obvious, so starting up a new league made sense to literally hundreds of people. This does not make them rebels.

    The AMNRL will have 5 domestic (mainland) teams at best in 2014. The NoVa Eagles have now announced they are leaving the AMNRL to join the USARL and I believe the South Hampton Dragons will not be fielding a team in the AMNRL in 2014. 5 domestic teams is zero advancement from the late 1990’s, early 2000’s when there were 4 or 5 teams running around a local soccer field. After 15 years they have achieved very little in relation to the US domestic game. They will claim there are many other teams that are ‘development’ teams which actually means ‘potential teams who exist only on paper or have a handful of guys playing touch footy against themselves’. I hope those development teams do eventuate but what we see in the USARL is real development, at a grass roots level. They have initiated, developed and implemented a range of grass roots programs and done so very quickly. They have developed courses for coaches and referees and relevant associations. They now have a fast growing high school league and clinics and have this month introduced the USARL Pioneers so to say that neither competition has an international schedule planned is wrong as the Pioneers will play Jamaica in Jamaica next month.

    It is clear to all who are directly involved in the game in the USA, that the AMNRL are struggling and that the USARL is the way to advance the game in the states. Curtis and Co need to hand over the reigns and allow a new group to lead the way as it is only a matter of time until the RLIF cause this to happen. Lets not even start on the RLWC team which was nothing short of a farce.

    • If you break away, you are the rebels ! Rugby league is rebel rugby! As I said to Spinner, journalism is often about boiling down complex ideas into simple catchphrases. USARL ARE rebels

      • I don’t like the negative connotation many people attach to the term ‘Rebel group’, with some saying the USARL have done the wrong thing by breaking away. That is not and was not the case in so far as them doing the wrong thing. Those of us involved in the game who are working hard to see it succeed don’t think it is a laughing matter. Be great to see the RL world and journo’s get behind the USARL as they will be the way forward for the game in the States and the AMNRL need to realize that, although I am sure they have already but just won’t concede.

      • If you rebel, you’re a rebel. The breakaway league I Italy describe themselves as rebels in press releases.

  2. Hi Steve, great article, and your dedication to international League is very admirable. I only hope the USA resolve their conflict soon. Just a heads-up, you wrote that no Tomahawks fixtures had been set for 2014; on the Canada Rugby League website they’ve announced the 2 Colonial Cup fixtures between Canada and USA on August 9 in Toronto and September 6 in Phily. Cheers, Murph.

  3. The USA home game will not be in Philly. Rather for the first time it will be in New York City . Stay tuned to and amnrl on Facebook for updates.

    • Steve are you aware of the proposed RL game in Hawaii said to involve the AMNRL development team v Combined NSW Country. Hawaii RL are not involved in any way and knew nothing about what the AMNRL were planning despite HRL supposedly being linked to tbe AMNRL. Looks like the supposed AMNRL team is made up of RU players who are buddies with the AMNRL. Worth digging
      around if you are looking for a story. Ask Wayne Perkins at Hawaii RL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.