The first of four regional 9s festivals, taking place this weekend in Tampa, will signal the launch of women’s rugby league in the USA. The others are scheduled for Los Angeles on 17 June, Salt Lake City on 10 July and Chicago over the weekend of 20-21 August.
In charge of the USAWRL competition is a name familiar to Wakefield fans, former stand off Garen Casey who was man of the match – and kicked the vital goal – when Trinity beat local rivals Featherstone to gain admittance to Super League in 1998.
Casey has a dual role, tasked with developing the women’s domestic competition and also being head coach of the women’s national side, the recently renamed Redtails. “It’s important for us to try and obtain local exposure,” he notes. “But it’s also important for the sport that the USA is successful in having a women’s programme.
“This year we’ll start with the introduction of 9s and getting players accustomed to something they might be familiar with. Whilst 9s is the way forward in the early stages, it will evolve into the full format of the game very quickly.”
Casey thinks the Brazil Amazonas will create some significant waves on their debut in the 2021 World Cup, predicting they’ll make the semi finals, and he’s an admirer of the roots that the women’s game is putting down in the South American nation.
“The Brazilians have shown us a template for development. What they’ve done has been fantastic and the World Cup will give them a further, massive boost,” he reflects.
“Whilst most of our initial growth will come out of the Florida region and branching up the East coast, where the men’s game is strong and infrastructure exists, we’ve got a lot of interest from places like Chicago, Salt Lake City, in Texas and San Diego.
“Our roadmap is looking pretty good for a 12 team competition – maybe regionalised six and six – for next year. In 2021 we’ll concentrate on the 9s tour exposing the sport to interested regions and showcase it like that.
“The big thing for us is developing pathways and getting coaches educated with a minimum qualification – we are going to be very strict on that. There are a lot of good athletes here and we have to harness their ability in the right way.”
Casey adds: “We not only want to build the national side but bring in representative U23s and U17s as well, which could be East v West and our own type of Origin series. The resources available on college campus’ and in terms of athletes who can cross codes is very high.
“We are heading in the right direction in the USA now and I genuinely think that progress is going to be on the tails of what we are developing in the women’s game.”