Rugby league has arrived in the United States and is here to stay, says the promoter of Saturday’s historic Test match between England and New Zealand in Colorado.
A crowd of 19,320 watched England come from 12-0 down to gain an impressive 36-18 win over the Kiwis at Denver’s Mile High Stadium.
Australian promoter Jason Moore, who organised the match to raise the profile of rugby league in the run-up to the 2025 World Cup due to be staged in North America, was encouraged by the event and intends to step up his efforts to repeat it in 2019 and 2020.
“It was a great spectacle for rugby league in North America, the boys put on a show,” Moore said.
“Obviously we would have liked more people but those that were here will come back and bring a friend for sure because of the quality and standard of play, rugby league won a lot of fans.
“The main thing was to showcase the game to a as many people as we could in this market.
“Yes there is room for improvement, yes we can do things better next time and we will but this is the first step in a journey. Rugby league has now arrived in North America.
“The most important thing for us is that do it again and again and again. This is just the beginning.”
The Rugby Football League and Super League clubs threw their weight behind the event but the NRL and its clubs were vocal in their opposition, citing concern over player welfare associated with long-distance travel and playing the game at high altitude.
England’s NRL-based players went out on a limb to lobby their clubs to drop their opposition and say they will repeat their actions in 2019 if necessary while coach Wayne Bennett has already launched a passionate plea for more Test matches to be played in the United States.
“Wayne has been a tremendous supporter of the concept,” Moore said. “He understands what this can do for rugby league and he understands what it can do for the players and their life experiences.”
Domestic rugby league in the United States is largely confined to the east coast, where England played a friendly international in 2000, and Toronto are attracting strong crowds for their first season in the Championship but Moore says Denver is an ideal location.
“Denver has a lot of unique properties,” he said. “It’s a sports-mad town with a 2.8million population, so not too big but big enough.
“The time zones worked great for broadcast - not only in New Zealand at 8am but in the UK at 9pm and we had east and west coast USA - and it’s great for fans and support power.
“It is one of the few sports markets in the US that has all the major professional sports teams represented so, when the (Denver) Broncos and us started talking it became a no-brainer to come here.”