The National Rugby League (NRL) is targeting American sporting talent in the hope of engaging new fans and capitalising on athletes that may not make the National Football League (NFL) draft. Upon their return from their historic season-opening double-header in Las Vegas, the NRL‘s strategy is to bring back not just new support, but also top athletic talent.
In pursuit of this, the NRL intends to facilitate an NFL-like combine with the objective of identifying prospective players boasting the physical characteristics necessary for succeeding in professional rugby league. The combine event offers exceptional budding footballers a chance to exhibit their skills through an extensive day of testing, anticipated to be conducted in Las Vegas just before the Sea Eagles–Rabbitohs and Roosters–Broncos showdowns.
The testing procedure would encompass the following performance tests:
1) A 40-metre sprint, which outside backs are expected to nail in roughly 4.5 seconds. Athletes meeting this standard would demonstrate capacity to compete with speed demons such as Ronaldo Mulitalo, Jason Saab, Maika Sivo, and Dom Young.
2) A Pro-agility drill which assesses athletes’ lateral movement. The drill occasions quick changes of direction and spurts of acceleration over short distances.
3) A vertical jump, a mainstay challenge at NFL combines, with athletes aiming for heights between 89 to 102 centimetres. This measurement varies based on the athlete’s size and the position they aspire to play. Scouts may also administer a broad jump.
4) Tests of strength, predominantly bench press and squat. Athletes are expected to bench press 102kg as much as possible. For instance, a 110kg NRL back-rower should manage between 10 to 12 repetitions. They should also demonstrate they can do between two to three squats of 150kg.
5) A speed and endurance exercise known as “The Bronco Test”, starting line-to-20, 40, and 60-metre marks, which has supplanted the traditional beep and yo-yo drill at most NRL Clubs.
6) Rugby league-specific drills aimed at gauging ability to manage simple two-on-one and three-on-two drills that reflect attackers or defenders. Fullbacks and wingers will be examined under ball machines that simulate different types of kicks. Wrestling techniques and ruck plays are further criteria that will be assessed.
NRL sports agent, Chris Orr, of the firm Pacific Sports Management, who has been running sports combines in Australia for five years, stated, “The NRL needs to be looking for athletic, powerful athletes” adding, “I don’t think the NRL would be looking for a spine player, in the same way the NFL pathways aren’t searching for a quarterback. We are looking at wingers, centres, back-rowers and props.”
Orr, responsible for the successful transitions of Valentine Holmes and Jordan Mailata, holds a positive view of American athletes, stating, “What I do know about college American athletes is that if you give them a task and set them goals, they will train their butts off to achieve them, especially if you give them a professional contract as a carrot.” He envisages that with the right mentoring, players would rapidly adapt to the NRL‘s playstyle.
The ultimate aim of the initiative, as Orr noted, is to garner support from the American audience and grow the game in uncharted territories. If successful, the influx of new athletes may revolutionise not just the competition, but also the viewership of the sport.