Rugby League’s American Civil War Ends; AMNRL Likely To Fold

amnrlogoBy STEVE MASCORD

THE battle for control of rugby league in America is over, with the establishment AMNRL telling the International Federation it will not be applying for full membership status.

The decision leaves the breakaway USARL as the only governing body for the the sport in the United States. The AMNRL did not run any competitions this year but did field Tomahawks sides in recent internationals against Canada and Samoa.

Despite qualifying for the World Cup quarter-finals, the Tomahawks have been told they will be excluded from the 2017 tournament unless they become a full member of the RLIF. The USARL and AMNRL were each invited to apply.

In a letter to Federation chairman Nigel Wood, seen by stevemascord.com : “The AMNRL has regrettably decided that as the RLIF will not support the model it has proposed that it would be futile to make an application for full RLIF membership.

“The AMNRL is proud to have been the founding fathers of rugby league in the USA and in particular its recent success at the Rugby League World Cup and the Hawaiian Rugby League Event.

The position in the USA must be resolved for the good of the game even at the loss of loyal servants of the game.
 
“The AMNRL will, of course, encourage its clubs and their players to stay with rugby league.
 
“Rugby league in the USA wouldn’t exist but for the efforts of David Niu and the AMNRL trusts one day he will rightly recognised.”
 
It’s unknown what impact the new developments will have on future international matches, including a slated trip to Jamaica by the Tomahawks in October.
 
 

American Civil War Wages On

US TomahawksBy STEVE MASCORD

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.
Filed for: FORTY20 MAGAZINE

FAR & WIDE: Number 47

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
THE details are finally through for the mid-year international which will determine who becomes the fourth side in this year’s Four Nations.
Samoa will play Fiji in at Centrebet Stadium on Saturday May 3 in a clash certain to rock the foundations of the venue. Both sides are looking to call in players who may not have been available for last year’s World Cup, including the likes of John Sutton and Jarryd Hayne for the Bati.
The countries were initially told that the highest finisher of the Pacific Nations at the World Cup would qualify for the Four Nations. But then officials thought out that scenario, realising that two Pacific nations could easily be eliminated at the same stage of the tournament.
Had the original edict stood, F‍iji would have qualified; but now they have to overcome another hurdle.
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THE Rugby League European Federation has announced a new competition structure.
All three tiers of competition will come under the banner European Championship, which is the norm in other sports. The Cup, Shield and Bowl will become the European Championship, Championship B and Championship C respectively.
The winners of the Championship will join Australia, England and New Zealand in the 2016 Four Nations. The draw for Championship B has been released. It is:
SERBIA V UKRAINE – 17 May, Belgrade
UKRAINE V RUSSIA – 24 May, Kharkov
RUSSSIA V SERBIA – 21 June, Naro Fominsk
UKRAINE V ITALY 5 – July, Kharkov
ITALY V RUSSIA 26 – July, Gemona
SERBIA V ITALY 20 – September, Belgrade
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SCOTLAND have retained the same coaching team of Steve McCormack and his assistants Dave Rotheram and John Duffy for the upcoming Commonwealth Nines to be played as an exhibition sport at the Glasgow games.
But Italy coach Carlo Napolitano has stood down following the strong showing at the World Cup, earning praise from a wide range of people who worked with him in the capacity.
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Alot of our pre-season news seems to be coming from America, where the USARL are planning a development tour to Jamaica.
The tour is open to all; it’s not going to be a representative team as such. There’s a game against Duhaney Park Red Sharks on April 3and Jamaica Hurricanes on April 5.
If you’re in America right now and interested, contact Ryan McGough at rmcgough@usarl.com.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: March 2014

South Sydney - Sam BurgessBy STEVE MASCORD

THE issue of Sam Burgess’s departure from South Sydney has prompted much analysis and hand-wringing about his place in South Sydney, England, the NRL and rugby league in general.
Why is he leaving, as appeared likely at the time of writing? How much will he be missed by these four institutions? What does it say about each of their futures?
Let’s deal with each one by one.
Burgess is an important player at Souths, probably their best after Greg Inglis. There has been speculation his “love of the spotlight” has made him unpopular there. I don’t know about that; what I do know is that his onfield brain explosions have increasingly been costing his team and his temper is a concern to all.
It’s a trait that has shown no sign of abating.
The documentary on Burgess which was shown before last year’s grand final was part of his third party agreements with the club. Colleague David Riccio has speculated the coaching staff at Souths were unimpressed with it.
Had it not been aired, the club would have been in breach of the salary cap for blocking a legitimate third party deal. Coaches focus too much on external things and it’s self perpetuating – you use some inane quote to motivate your side and then you have to prevent your own players from giving inane quotes. Why don’t we just have a truce, furchrisakes?
But that’s another column. Souths will miss Burgess but they’ll replace him. They’ll do well to win a comp with him this year.
England will miss Sam Burgess much, much more. He was their best player in the World Cup and it’s hard to see another forward with the footwork and power of Burgess emerging any time soon. Can he play in this year’s Four Nations? A big question.
England rugby union snaring Burgess is a big victory in the battle of the codes for them. However, is Burgess quick enough to play centre in the 15 man game? Do you even have to be quick to play centre in rugby union? I’d have to watch it comment and that’s a sacrifice I’m not prepared to make!
In short, the NRL and rugby league in general will not blink with Burgess’ exit. It will flutter an eyelash in Sonny Bill Williams direction when he does the same, but that’s all.
The dogs are barking but the caravan moves on, as Alan Jones once said.
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AS usual, I spent the pre-season in the UK. Moving the World Club Challenge forced me to go back to Oz earlier but it was great to see the Super League season open at DW Stadium.
The debate about the new television deal is intriguing.
It was like the original Super League War all over again; Sky put money on the table to secure the long-term rights of rugby league (and other sports) immediately. It was clearly not going to be there forever. Unlike 1995/6, however, there were no demands regarding the restructuring of the game (we hope).
So while Red Hall is copping flack for allegedly railroading the clubs into accepting the deal, how much more would they be copping had they thumbed their noses at Stg200 million?
The concern is that BT Sport and Sky Sports will eventually have to call a truce in the battle over European rugby union. They’ll have to share content. And when that happens, the market value of other sports will go down.
That belief powered the decision to accept Sky’s offer. We can now sit back and see whether it was an accurate or inaccurate belief.
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THE proposed Great Britain tour of Australia and New Zealand next year is proving somewhat problematic.
While the good rugby league folk of the British Isles are excited about something that has not happened since 1992, the antipodeans seem largely unmoved. I mean,
Cameron Smith did say in his World Cup acceptance speak that the squad had enjoyed its time in “Britain and Wales”. England and Britain are interchangeable to many foreigners, including Americans.
The result is that the NRL and NZRL seem in no hurry to confirm the trek. Then again, we’ve had no confirmation of this year’s internationals either, have we?
A couple of years ago, there was talk of the Lions heading south of the equator but no-one would have them. Could it happen again?
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AN update on next year’s World Club Challenge is in order, perhaps.
As previously reported, South Sydney and Brisbane have agreed to be the second and third NRL sides to head to the northern hemisphere in February. They would play the second- and third-placed Super League sides on the Friday and Saturday before the WCC proper.
The new information I have to hand regards the lead-up games. South Sydney are set to play Brisbane at Barnett in a major boost to our code in London.
And the NRL premiers will play Catalan in Perpignan en route to England. What a great promotion – the sort of things other professional sports have been doing with exhibition games for years.
By the way (I almost typed ‘BTW’ there – derr) if the WCC is to be taken seriously, surely the prize money has to go back up from Stg25,000 – hardly a fitting purse for the world champions in a professional sport.
The real put of gold at the end of the WCC rainbow is the clubs being allowed to sell their own TV rights. Which brings me to this proposal: if Ian Lenagan and Marwan Koukash are so confident the elite clubs should determine their own destiny, why not let them start by running the expanded WCC?
It needs year-round attention to realist its potential.
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WHILE the NRL was spending a fortune on bodyguards for its stars at the Auckland Nines, a little tournament in western Sydney was picking up the slack for the lack of international development being promoted across the Tasman.
World expansion pinup boys Canada travelled down under for the first time and we also had the likes of Fiji, Niue, Cook Islands, Fiji, the Philippines, Portugal, Thailand, Greece, Malta, Japan and South America’s Latin Heat going around.
Auburn Warriors beat the Philippines 14-8 in the final.
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WHAT really happened in America to scupper the planned merger of the AMNRL and USARL?
Bondi Beat has heard two principal theories. One, the USARL delegates came to believe the AMNRL delegates had not been democratically elected by their clubs and had lost faith in the process and two, the USARL clubs got cold feet about an independent body determining their fate.
Either way, it sounds terrbly rugby league, doesn’t it?
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ONE of the first places I went this past off-season was South Africa, where a NSW Country side was on tour.
There was scarcely 300 people at the stadium for the game against the Rhinos and one of them was Jock Colley, the CRL chairman. Jock was an irrascible fellow, not afraid to upset the suits from the city when he felt the bushies were copping a raw deal.
To mix a metaphor, he wasn’t afraid to get off the gravy train and rock the applecart.
He made the annual City-Country game interesting by speaking his mind in the lead-up when it came to unco-operative clubs and players who didn’t believe in the cause.
So it was a shock on the opening day of this season in England to learn Jock had collapsed during an evening walk. He was airlifted to Sydney, placed on life support, and later passed away.
You’ll be missed Jock. We need more like you.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

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FAR & WIDE: Number 46

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

RUGBY League’s lucky number at the moment seems to be nine.
Following on from last week’s item about the AMNRL and USARL going their separate ways once more this year, the former has put out a media release saying it will play against teams in the latter in … a nines tournament.
“AMNRL clubs will participate in the Nines competition alongside clubs from the USARL on May 17,” said the media release.
“This is the first step in uniting the competitions into one league, which is a direction the AMNRL is seeking to head down.”
AMNRL chairman Curtis Cunz was quoted as saying: “”I can’t wait to put the politics aside and see all of the boys I used to go to battle against back in the day and then crack a few beers open afterwards
“The AGM re-enforced the democratic and transparent governance of the AMNRL and the shared vision of the member clubs.”
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THERE seems to be a lot of professional players coming through who are eligible for Malta.
The latest is Jonathan Wallace, who was due to make his debut for London last weekend against Salford. The giant forward was actually born in Malta.
Jake Mamo, who played for Newcastle in the NRL Nines, is also eligible for Malta.
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AFTER missing out on hosting the 2017 World Cup, South Africa have congratulated Australia and New Zealand and vowed to bid for the 2021 tournament.
“South Africa will now endeavour to work with the Rugby League International Federation to ensure the growth of the sport here and will look at establishing a strong team to qualify for the 2017 World Cup,” said SARL chairman Kobus Botha.
““All of the facilities and aspects unique to South Africa to ensure expansion of the game are still available to the RLIF”
Bid chief Ian Riley added: “Rugby league in South Africa now has a voice and the process of bidding has allowed SARL to start conversations with SASCOC, the SRSA and SARU towards recognition and support.
“It has also created dialogue between, and shown a willingness by, major rugby league countries to get involved and play a role in developing the sport. We are in discussions with the RLIF on creating a seven year roadmap for rugby league in South Africa and other territories to see how we can collectively grow the game.”
Twitter: @RLWfarandwide Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RLWfarandwide

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DISCORD 2014: Edition Five

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

IT’s a popular sport among a certain section of rugby league fans in Australia to make fun of Super League, which kicks off on Friday night with Wigan playing Huddersfield.

But consider this: Super League now has a naming rights sponsor, a new and ambitious competition structure and a television rights deal extending to 2021.

International rugby league, which hit a highpoint during last year’s World Cup, still doesn’t know what games it is staging THIS year.

How is it possible that we don’t have a draw or venues for this year’s Four Nations, two months after a World Cup that made $6 million? Great Britain want to tour for the first time in 24 years next season and no-one in Australia or New Zealand has told them if they can.

On one hand, the new NRL administration seems more interested in international development than previous regimes. They are considering playing exhibition games at Wembley.

But on the other, they don’t seem to be able to make decisions on the immediate to medium-term future. When the 2014 NRL draw was announced, the venue for the ANZAC Test on May 2 was ‘TBA’

No-one is saying it but there is a concern in the northern hemisphere that the NRL has agreed to pay players so much for representing Australia that it’s become too expensive to stage a Test match and make a profit.

Super League has clubs with major financial problems and an active rebellion underway among those who don’t have them. The new competition structure is … weird.
But we should remember that all is not rosy in the NRL either – particularly when it comes to the vitally important task of building on the legacy of the World Cup.
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THE latest news from America is intriguing.
There’s what purports to be a leaked email doing the rounds, in which a flagship team of the establishment AMNRL distances itself from the organisation, which sent the United States Tomahawks to the World Cup.
I stress this ‘purports’ to be a leaked email, although the New York Knights have yet to deny its authenticity.
“We decided to no longer tolerate foreign intrusion in U.S. RL domestic & international matters,” says the missive, sent by the Knights to the AMNRL and to Aussie Steve Johnson who assembled 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. We strongly believe that knowledge of the local reality and field commitment are the required attributes to move forward and put behind us this delusional hope that we’re about to become professional anytime soon.
“Why would we need foreign assistance while the U.S. is by far the country with the best athletic programs and sports business structures? Note that most NRL coaches are desperate to attend an NFL training session…
“I know you guys think that we “shock (sic) the world” at the RLWC but the sad reality is that, beyond the good performances of this 2nd Australian team wearing U.S. jerseys, we also lost a large contingent of talented American players who will play 7′s this summer and pursue their hyphothetical Olympic dream, simply because they know they have nothing to play for on a RL field!
“We literally spoiled a great opportunity to expose our boys (and subsequently our clubs) to top level RL so I personally can’t continue to tacitly endorse this approach.”
The email is signed ‘G’. Guillaume Cieutat is listed as coach on the club’s website, Rob Balachandran as president. Discord has been assured that despite all this, the AMNRL are playing on. If Cieutat chooses not to be involved, that is regarded by other AMNRL clubs as his choice.
AMNRL clubs remain defiant.

THANKS, as always, for the comments last week.

read on

FAR & WIDE: Number 45

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

THE AMNRL is preparing to announce its program for the year following confirmation there will again be two competitions in the United States.
The AMNRL, which runs the Tomahawks national team, and rival USARL had been involved in peace talks for much of last year and a framework for a merger was drawn up.
But after an Independent Commission to run the sport in America was picked, the USARL clubs got cold feet and called the whole thing off.
Two AMNRL-aligned New York clubs, the Raiders and Knights, have distanced themselves from the peace deal and the existing administration in a media release and leaked email respectively.
But new AMNRL chairman, and Connecticut Wildcats owner, Curtis Cunz, says the establishment competition will fight on.
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EDGARD Taturyan has been involved in Russian rugby league since 1989, filling a host of roles including that of national coach.
But after turning 75 last year, Tarturyan has decided to stand down. Despite the challenge presented by rugby union sevens being accepted into the Olympics, Edgard is confident our sport has a positive future in the former Soviet Union.
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ALL the news on the TV from the Ukraine seems bad – but for rugby league, these are positive times.
The country has 45 sports schools and an agreement has been struck for all of them to include rugby league this year. Officials hope to soon boast some 2000 junior players.
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RUGBY league’s 55-year tenure at Darwin’s Richardson Park is over.
Spiralling costs have been given for the reason to vacate the venue, which was said to once be home to a giant crocodile who patrolled the hill.
“Gone are the heady days of hosting 2000-3000 league fans for a home-and-away round and now, so are we,” was the pithy comment of NTRL general manager John Mitchell.

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