USA Rugby League

The USA Rugby League (USARL) is the official governing body for rugby league, a code of rugby football, in the USA.

USA Rugby League
Current season or competition:
2019 USARL season
SportRugby league
Inaugural season2011
ChairmenPeter Illfield (INC Chairman)
Danny Hanson (Domestic Chairman)
Number of teams11
Country United States
Champions Brooklyn Kings (1st Title) (2019)
Most titles Philadelphia Fight (4 titles) (Domestic Competition)

The USA Rugby League LLC (Domestic Competition) runs the national competition for rugby league in the US as an amateur rugby league football competition in the United States. The league consists of eleven teams located in east coast states, with a development conference in the Mid-West states consisting of three teams. 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. Before the 2017 season, the D.C. Slayers and Bucks County Sharks left the competition, and the USARL abolished the division structure within the North Conference. Before the 2018 season, the Central Florida Warriors left the competition and were replaced by Southwest Florida Copperheads. The Rhode Island Rebellion also left the competition. The New York Knights left the competition after the 2018 season.[14]


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

Regular season

The USARL is split into two conferences, North and South. In the South Conference, teams play a double round-robin schedule of 8 games. In the North Conference, teams play a single round-robin schedule of 5 games plus an additional 3 games. 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 May and July.


In the South Conference, all four teams automatically make the playoffs. The teams with the best and worst records, and the second- and third-best records, play each other in the South Conference semi-finals. The winners meet in the South Conference finals. In the North Conference, the teams with the six best records make the playoffs. The winners of the South Conference finals meet the winners of the North Conference finals in the USARL Grand Final.


Locations of teams for 2019 USARL season
          South Conference
          North Conference
North Conference
Colors Club Founded City (MSA) State Stadium Titles
Boston Thirteens 2009 Boston  Massachusetts Eastern Boston Stadium 1 (2015)
Brooklyn Kings 2014 Brooklyn  New York Randalls Island Field 10 1 (2019)
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 Garthwaite Stadium 4 (2016)
White Plains Wombats 2016 White Plains  New York Blind Brook Elementary School 0 (N/A)
South Conference
Colors Club Founded City (MSA) State Stadium Titles
Atlanta Rhinos 2014 Atlanta  Georgia Atlanta Silverbacks Park 1 (2017)
Jacksonville Axemen 2006 Jacksonville  Florida UNF Rugby Field 2 (2018)
Lakeland Renegades 2019 Lakeland  Florida All Saints Academy 0 (N/A)
Southwest Florida Copperheads 2018 Buckingham (Fort Myers)  Florida Lehigh Senior High School 0 (N/A)
Tampa Mayhem 2014 Tampa Bay  Florida Tampa Catholic High School 0 (N/A)

Former teams

Former Teams
Colors Club Years Active City (MSA) State Stadium Titles
Baltimore Blues 2012-2014 Baltimore  Maryland 0 (N/A)
Bucks County Sharks 1997-2016 Bucks County (Trenton)  Pennsylvania Falls Township Park 0 (N/A)
Central Florida Warriors 2014-2017 Deland  Florida Spec Martin Stadium 0 (N/A)
Connecticut Wildcats 2003-2015 Norwalk  Connecticut Andrews Field 0 (N/A)
D.C. Slayers 2003-2016 Washington  Washington Duke Ellington Field 0 (N/A)
New Haven Warriors 2006-2012 West Haven (New Haven)  Connecticut Ken Strong Stadium 0 (N/A)
New Jersey Turnpike Titans 2011-2012 Jersey City  New Jersey Cochran Stadium 0 (N/A)
New York Knights 1997-2018 New York City  New York The Castle Pier 40 0 (N/A)
Oneida FC 2011-2012 Cambridge  Massachusetts Henry G. Steinbrenner Stadium 0 (N/A)
Rhode Island Rebellion 2011-2017 Providence  Rhode Island Marvel Field 0 (N/A)

Premiership winners

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 Philadelphia Fight (14 points)
2014 Philadelphia Fight
30 – 18
Jacksonville Axemen Philadelphia Fight (14 points) (North)

Jacksonville Axemen (12 Points) (South)

2015 Boston 13s
44 – 12
Atlanta Rhinos Philadelphia Fight (16 points) (North)

Atlanta Rhinos (8 Points) (South)

2016 Philadelphia Fight 42–20 Jacksonville Axemen Philadelphia Fight (16 points) (North)

Jacksonville Axemen (12 Points) (South)

2017 Atlanta Rhinos 32–18 New York Knights New York Knights (16 points) (North)
Atlanta Rhinos (11 Points) (South)
2018 Jacksonville Axemen 56-16 Brooklyn Kings Jacksonville Axemen (South)
2019 Brooklyn Kings 12-6 Jacksonville Axemen Brooklyn Kings (16 points) (North)

Jacksonville Axemen (14 Points) (South)


Winners Count Years
Philadelphia Fight 4 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016
Jacksonville Axemen 2 2012, 2018
Brooklyn Kings 1 2019
Boston 13s 1 2015
Atlanta Rhinos 1 2017

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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17] Another team, the Utah Avalanche, were formerly affiliated as a developmental team, and participated in the 2011 USARL 9s tournament.[18]

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.[19] A fourth team, the Tampa Inferno, joined the championship in 2013.[20] From 2014-2017, Daytona and Orlando formed a joint venture Central Florida side to compete in the USARL South 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.[22] 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". 6 November 2014.
  2. Mascord, Steve (12 January 2011). "Discord 2011: Edition 2". Archived from the original on 19 January 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  3. "New Rugby League Competition Announced". Rugby Magazine. 12 January 2011. Archived from the original on 19 January 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  4. "Breakaway league launched in the US". 12 January 2011. Archived from the original on 19 January 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  5. "Eagles Cease Operations". 12 April 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  6. Mark Reynolds (23 July 2011). "Providence-based rugby team battles for recognition". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  7. "USARL Constitution, Teams, Entry Qualifications Announced". Philadelphia Fight Rugby News and Press. 18 February 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  8. "USA Rugby League (USARL) Names Peter Illfield Chairman". USA Rugby League. 13 January 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  9. "USA Rugby League name a Chairman-the Fight's own Peter Illfield". Philadelphia Fight Rugby News and Press. 13 January 2011. Archived from the original on 19 January 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  10. Daniel Andruczyk (28 August 2011). "It's Hard to Keep a Game of Rugby League Down". Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  11. Mascord, Steve (12 March 2014). "American Civil War Wages On". Forty20 Magazine. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  12. "2014 Season IV schedule is here". USA Rugby League. 16 March 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  15. Youth program expands to Philadelphia
  17. "USA Developing Regions". USA Rugby League. 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  18. "Draw for this Weekends 9′s Announced". USA Rugby League. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2011.
  19. "Three New Teams Coming to Florida". Jacksonville Axemen. 27 May 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  21. "Developing regions". USA Rugby League. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
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