USA Rugby League

USA Rugby League
Current season or competition:
2016 USARL season
Sport Rugby league
Instituted 2011
Inaugural season 2011
Chairman Peter Illfield
Number of teams 14
Country United States United States
Champions Philadelphia Fight (4th Title) (2016)
Most titles Philadelphia Fight (4 titles)

The USA Rugby League (USARL) is the official governing body for rugby league in the USA and runs a top level rugby league football competition in the United States. The league consists of fourteen teams located in east coast states. The regular season is played in June and July.

The league was founded in 2011 by clubs that had broken with the established American National Rugby League (AMNRL), plus expansion franchises. The USARL began its inaugural season in 2011 with eight teams. The USARL was granted affiliate membership in November 2014 of the RLIF and RLEF, replacing the AMNRL which is now defunct.[1]


2011-2012: Foundation

The formation of the USA Rugby League was announced on January 12, 2011. Seven teams that had previously competed in the American National Rugby League, the United States' established rugby league organization and recognized governing body for the sport, announced they were breaking with the AMNRL to form a new league. The stated reason for the split was dissatisfaction with the governance of the AMNRL; the departing teams were unhappy with the lack of club involvement in the league's decision making, and the new league was founded with the principle of including its member clubs in its administration.[2][3][4]

The departing AMNRL teams were the Boston Thirteens, the Washington, D.C. Slayers, the Fairfax Eagles, the Jacksonville Axemen, the New Haven Warriors, the Philadelphia Fight, and the Pittsburgh Vipers; they were to be joined by two new teams, the New Jersey Turnpike Titans and Kodiak Rugby from New York City. Before the season Pittsburgh and Fairfax became "developmental" teams in the new league outside of the top-tiered competition; Fairfax subsequently suspended operations.[5] The New York team was unable to find a suitable stadium in the city, and instead became the Rhode Island Rebellion.[6] One additional team, Oneida FC, joined the top-tiered competition for the 2011 season.[7]

On January 13, 2011, the USARL announced that Peter Illfield, chairman of the Philadelphia Fight, would be the league's first Chairman.[8][9] The league's first event was a rugby league nines tournament in the Philadelphia area on May 28–29, 2011. Round 1 of the regular season championship kicked off on June 4; the Jacksonville Axemen won the minor premiership with the best regular season record. In the inaugural Grand Final on August 27, the Philadelphia Fight defeated the New Haven Warriors to win their first ever national championship.[10]

2013-2014: Expansion

In 2013 the USARL and AMNRL increased their focus on reunification, particularly after the United States' encouraging showing at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. An independent commission assembled to lead negotiations, however the USARL clubs eventually pulled out. USARL commissioner Peter Illfield blamed apparent dysfunction and disorganization in the AMNRL organization for this decision. The USARL subsequently invited AMNRL clubs to join their ranks as full members and initiated a four-team expansion.[11]

In 2014, the USARL expanded to 10 teams, adding expansion squads Atlanta Rhinos, Central Florida Warriors, and Tampa Mayhem. In addition, the Northern Virginia Eagles withdrew from the AMNRL and joined the USARL.[12] To reduce operating costs, the competition was split into two conferences.[13] Meanwhile, the AMNRL suspended its 2014 season.

2015-present: AMNRL folds

In 2015, the AMNRL folded, leaving the USARL as the undisputed top-level rugby league competition in the United States. Three former AMNRL clubs joined the USARL; Bucks County Sharks, Connecticut Wildcats, and New York Knights. The Delaware Black Foxes also joined as an expansion squad. For 2016, the Connecticut Wildcats left the competition and were replaced by the White Plains Wombats.


The first event of the season is the rugby league nines tournament.

Regular Season

The USARL is split into two conferences, North and South. The North Conference is further split into two divisions, the Northeast Division and the Mid-Atlantic Division. All teams in the South Conference are part of the South Division. In the South Conference, teams play a double round-robin schedule of 6 games. In the North Conference, each team plays 8 games, primarily within their own division. Teams qualify for the playoffs based on point differential, with a win counting for 2 points, a draw for 1, a loss for 0, and a forfeit for −2. The regular season runs through June and July.


For the 2015 season, the USARL further extended the division and conference playoff structure introduced in 2014. In the South Conference, the teams with the best and worst records, and the second- and third-best records, will play each other in the South Conference Semi-Finals. The winners will meet in the South Conference Final. In the North Conference, the teams with the second- and third-best records in each division will play each other in the North Conference Division Semi-Finals. The winners will play the teams with the best records in their respective divisions in the North Conference Divisional Finals. The winners of the Divisional Finals will play in the North Conference Final. The winners of the Conference Finals will meet in the USARL Grand Final.


North Conference
Northeast Division
Colors Club Founded City (MSA) State Stadium Titles
Boston Thirteens 2009 Boston  Massachusetts Nickerson Field 1 (2015)
Brooklyn Kings 2014 Brooklyn  New York Randalls Island Field 10 0 (N/A)
New York Knights 1997 New York  New York The Castle Pier 40 0 (N/A)
Rhode Island Rebellion 2011 Providence  Rhode Island Marvel Field 0 (N/A)
White Plains Wombats 2016 White Plains (New York)  New York 0 (N/A)
Mid-Atlantic Division
Colors Club Founded City (MSA) State Stadium Titles
Bucks County Sharks 1997 Bucks County (Trenton)  Pennsylvania Falls Township Park 0 (N/A)
D.C. Slayers 2003 Washington  Washington, D.C. Duke Ellington Field 0 (N/A)
Delaware Black Foxes 2015 Wilmington  Delaware Eden Park Stadium 0 (N/A)
Northern Virginia Eagles 2007 Nokesville  Virginia Grizzly Sports Complex 0 (N/A)
Philadelphia Fight 1998 Conshohocken (Philadelphia)  Pennsylvania A. A. Garthwaite Stadium 4 (2016)
South Conference
Colors Club Founded City (MSA) State Stadium Titles
Atlanta Rhinos 2014 Atlanta  Georgia Atlanta Silverbacks Park 0 (N/A)
Central Florida Warriors 2014 DeLand (Daytona Beach)  Florida Spec Martin Stadium 0 (N/A)
Jacksonville Axemen 2006 Jacksonville  Florida Hodges Stadium 1 (2012)
Tampa Mayhem 2014 Tampa Bay  Florida Tampa Catholic High School 0 (N/A)

Premiership Winners

Main article: USARL Grand Final

For the first three seasons, the USARL was a single-division competition. In 2014 the teams were split into two conferences and three divisions.

Season Grand Finals Minor Premiership
Premiers Score Runners-up
2011 Philadelphia Fight
28 – 26
New Haven Warriors Jacksonville Axemen (14 points)
2012 Jacksonville Axemen
28 – 22
Boston 13s Jacksonville Axemen (16 points)
2013 Philadelphia Fight
28 – 22
Jacksonville Axemen
2014 Philadelphia Fight
30 – 18
Jacksonville Axemen
2015 Boston 13s
44 - 12
Atlanta Rhinos
2016 Philadelphia Fight 42-20 Jacksonville Axemen


Winners Count Years
Philadelphia Fight 4 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016
Jacksonville Axemen 1 2012
Boston 13s 1 2015

Development programs

The USARL has supported the establishment of the American Youth Rugby League Association (AYRLA), a clinic and game program for juniors run through high schools in Rhode Island and as of 2012 Philadelphia.[14]

Mikhael Shammas of the Boston 13s has also endeavored to establish a North American Match Officials Association to improve officiating quality of the game within North America.

The 2013 season has seen substantial growth of the game with the establishment of a New England 9s tournament and an under 23's competition, as well as regular school competitions in Rhode Island and Boston under the ARLYA banner.[15]

Developmental teams

As part of the 2011 season, a former AMNRL team, the Pittsburgh Sledgehammers, participated as a "developmental team", playing a more limited schedule while developing the club for future seasons.[7] Several other clubs have registered "developing" teams: these include the Denver Wolverines, the Los Angeles Raiders, the Orange County Outlaws, the Seattle Force and Texas Rugby League (which will field two teams, the Dallas Dragons and the Houston Hornets). Several of these are established developing teams that were previously aligned with the AMNRL; the USARL has committed to support them in their development.[16] Another team, the Utah Avalanche, were formerly affiliated as a developmental team, and participated in the 2011 USARL 9s tournament.[17]

In 2011 the Jacksonville Axemen also launched a reserve grade competition, the "Firehouse Subs" Southeastern Rugby League Championship, which acts as a feeder club system for the Axemen to further develop players. The competing teams are the Daytona Gearheads, the Jacksonville Hatchets, and the Orlando Adrenaline.[18] A fourth team, the Tampa Inferno, joined the championship in 2013.[19] From 2014, Daytona and Orlando will form a joint venture Central Florida side and compete in the USARL Southern Conference.

Representative sides

New England Immortals

The New England Immortals RLFC were founded in 2010 and consisted of the top players from the 3 New England based AMNRL clubs.They played their inaugural match against the Canadian National Team, on July 31, 2010, defeating the Canadians 12-8 in a tightly contested match. After the AMNRL/USARL split in 2011, the Immortals were transferred to the USARL and became the only form of representation for USARL clubs due to the RLIF regulation that USARL-based players could not represent the Tomahawks. The Immortals took to the field for their second match since their inception, and despite putting up a hard fight, they were out classed by the more experienced Marines, losing by a score of 68-12. As of 2014, due to budgetary cuts and restructuring of the USARL competition, the Immortals have not played a match since their loss to the Royal Marines.

USA Pioneers

In 2014, the league established a touring developmental side, the USA Pioneers, to play friendly matches against foreign nations. They completed a two match tour in Jamaica in April 2014, winning their first game against a Jamaican domestic outfit, but fell short to the semi-professional Hurricanes Rugby League whilst still proving to be strong opposition for the Jamaicans.[21] The Pioneers played a friendly against a touring New Zealand Police squad the following August, losing 6-62 against very strong opposition.

Presidents Barbarians

The USARL established another team to play a second match against the New Zealand Police and to 'curtain-raise' the 2014 USARL National Championship between the Philadelphia Fight and the Jacksonville Axemen. This representative consisted of overseas-imports from Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and France; similar to Super League's Exiles. They were beaten by the Kiwis 16-46.

See also


  1. "USARL become members of the rugby league European federation". November 6, 2014.
  2. Mascord, Steve (January 12, 2011). "Discord 2011: Edition 2". Archived from the original on January 19, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  3. "New Rugby League Competition Announced". Rugby Magazine. January 12, 2011. Archived from the original on January 19, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  4. "Breakaway league launched in the US". January 12, 2011. Archived from the original on January 19, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  5. "Eagles Cease Operations". April 12, 2011. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  6. Mark Reynolds (July 23, 2011). "Providence-based rugby team battles for recognition". The Providence Journal. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  7. 1 2 "USARL Constitution, Teams, Entry Qualifications Announced". Philadelphia Fight Rugby News and Press. February 18, 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  8. "USA Rugby League (USARL) Names Peter Illfield Chairman". USA Rugby League. January 13, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  9. "USA Rugby League name a Chairman-the Fight's own Peter Illfield". Philadelphia Fight Rugby News and Press. January 13, 2011. Archived from the original on January 19, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  10. Daniel Andruczyk (August 28, 2011). "It's Hard to Keep a Game of Rugby League Down". Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  11. Mascord, Steve (March 12, 2014). "American Civil War Wages On". Forty20 Magazine. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  12. "2014 Season IV schedule is here". USA Rugby League. March 16, 2014. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  14. Youth program expands to Philadelphia
  16. "USA Developing Regions". USA Rugby League. 2011. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
  17. "Draw for this Weekends 9′s Announced". USA Rugby League. May 23, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2011.
  18. "Three New Teams Coming to Florida". Jacksonville Axemen. May 27, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  20. "Developing regions". USA Rugby League. Retrieved June 7, 2015.
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