Written by Stuart McLennan
Photo by USARL
Speaking with the USA Director of Women’s Rugby League, Nate Gladdin, it is no surprise that his background is in military services.
He has a clearly defined strategic plan that has more than a hint of a military operation. He believes it will see the USA women’s rugby league team grow to be close to the best, if not the number one team by the time the 2025 World Cup comes around.
It is a big, ambitious, American plan but to be fair there is plenty of substance attached.
While the USA has been overlooked for a berth in the 2021 World Cup with regional neighbours Brazil taking the eighth spot, Gladdin is adamant the setback won’t affect his strategy.
“Although I would’ve liked to have seen our women compete in 2021, I know Brazil will represent the Americas proudly.
“They’ve earned their right to be selected by working tirelessly to grow a domestic comp and help the game grow in South America. They’ll have our full support,” Gladdin told Everything Rugby League.
“We also congratulate Canada from our region who were there in 2017.
“Whether we were there in 2021 or enter qualification for 2025 our plans don’t change. It would only be the sense of urgency.”
Similar to the rugby union sevens situation ten years ago there is a real opportunity for non-traditional countries to establish themselves as a force in women’s rugby league while it is still growing. Australia and New Zealand have professional teams while England has a strong amateur competition. The women’s game is still in the early stages of development below these nations.
“On the men’s side, you are playing catch up. With Australia, New Zealand, England and France we are talking about over 100 years of catch up”
“In my conversations in Australia with governing bodies and clubs, they all agreed they want to see another nation that is competitive. If say the USA or Greece got to the stage by 2025 that they were number three in the world, New Zealand and Australia would still want to beat them but on the other hand they would be excited another nation was giving them real competition.”
“With the women’s side it is not so much the case with the game being at an earlier stage. Women players are obviously very competitive but there is a feeling that they want to see other nations grow and succeed.
The USA would appear to have a strong base for recruitment and a large pool of female athletes. Rugby union is played extensively in the college system. The USA women’s sevens rugby union team is currently ranked second behind New Zealand.
“There are literally thousands of rugby players here in the States,” Gladdin said.
“Within 24 hours of announcing our plans to have a USA women’s rugby league team I was contacted by more than a dozen women that have worn the red white and blue in either 7s or 15s international matches.”
Gladden indicated that the women’s rugby league will focus on initiating domestic competitions and developing USA heritage players.
On the domestic front rather than applying a scattergun approach, he is initially focussing on small specific areas in California, Hawaii and the Carolinas. He likens this to starting small fires that eventually spread rather than lighting up on a small forest.
On a recent trip to Australia Gladdin sealed a partnership with Brisbane club the Wests Mitchelton Panthers. The agreement will see the club and their ground used as a base for USA training camps and games for heritage players living in Australia.
An exchange program featuring USA players travelling to Australia to experience development systems and train with Wests Mitchelton players will be implemented from 2020. It is envisaged that Australian players will enjoy stints in USA competitions once they have been established.
“To be the best we need to identify who is the best in our field and in this case it is Australia and New Zealand. You have to figure out who is the best and why to compete with them.
“I don’t apologise for saying we want to be the best. It’s what America was built on. People coming from all over the world, taking a chance and giving it a try.”
Gladdin, who hosts the popular Rugby League in America Podcast, is aware that America is considered by many internationalists as the holy grail when it comes to rugby league development.
“People do still believe in the American dream which is one side of it. Also, I don’t know of any other nation with a bigger sporting culture than us. What I mean is in terms of variety of sports.
“In America whatever sport we find to get into we love it. Rugby league hasn’t been able to find a way to tap into that culture.” Yet.