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NEW YORK (February 13, 2018) -- Rugby United New York (RUNY) will join Major League Rugby as an associate member, the league announced today. New York’s first professional rugby team will play an exhibition schedule in 2018 before playing a full MLR schedule beginning in 2019.
“It is a very exciting time for MLR and we are thrilled to welcome Rugby United New York,” said MLR commissioner Dean Howes. “Expanding to the East Coast is an important step for MLR. New York is a great city with rich rugby history and the largest media market in the country.”
Rugby United NY, who will launch with its official MLR name and branding later this year, will join Austin Elite, Glendale Raptors, Houston SaberCats, NOLA Gold, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and Utah Warriors in the newly-founded professional rugby league.
Led by head coach Mike Tolkin, former head coach of the USA Eagles, Rugby United NY will kick off its exhibition schedule in March with matches against the Ontario Arrows and Boston Mystics. RUNY will play two matches against each team, one home and one away. Joining Tolkin on the coaching staff will be assistant coaches Bruce McLane, Andrew Britt and Vili Vakasisikakala.
"This is a particularly historic moment for rugby in New York,” said Tolkin. “This will be the first domestic professional endeavor in the city and it provides an opportunity for the wealth of talented players and coaches found in our great local clubs to come together as a formidable team.”
Rugby United New York’s home match against Boston, which will be open to the public, is set for March 24 at 7 p.m. EST at Gaelic Park in the Bronx. The game against the city’s historic sports rival will also serve as the annual FDNY vs. NYPD rugby match, in aid of the McNaughton-Engeldrum fund for the families of fallen personnel. Tickets for match day are available at rugbyunitedny.com.
RUNY has compiled a group of approximately 50 athletes set to compete to make the final roster. The prospective players have experience playing under Empire Rugby GU, the governing body of 54 men's and women's rugby union clubs in New York State, Northern New Jersey and Southern Connecticut. In addition to creating a professional rugby team and environment in New York, Rugby United NY will develop the game from the ground up to create a sustainable pathway for the high school and college programs in the area.
“Despite living and playing rugby in the city for 20 years, I was astonished by the player numbers and the growth of the sport in the region,” said chairman and founder James Kennedy. “We want to work with the entire community to grow the sport we all love and make it accessible and enjoyable for everyone.”
RUNY has already started to positively impact their local community at a grassroots level, one of the pillars of MLR. The club has partnered with Play Rugby USA, a youth development non-profit that uses the unique power of rugby to empower and inspire youth, primarily from underserved communities, and Solace House, a mental health awareness center in New York.
“Rugby’s values set it apart from other sports and we have a duty to stand by these and make a meaningful impact in our communities,” said co-owner and former WWE star John Layfield.
"It is incredibly exciting to see a professional rugby club launching in the greater New York area,” said Eddie O’Sullivan, a RUNY advisor and former USA Eagles head coach. “It is a rugby region with immense potential and it is hugely encouraging the vision involves building a franchise from the grassroots upwards engaging age-grade, university and club rugby. I have no doubt it will play a key role in bringing USA Rugby to the next level."
Along with O’Sullivan, Shane Horgan, a former Irish national team member, will also serve as an advisor.
MLR is a professional rugby league that will launch in April of 2018. It’s an initiative of the American rugby community, in partnership with private investors, who believe that American rugby can thrive at the highest levels: as a commercial enterprise; as an influential player on the international scene; and as a participation sport at the youth and senior level. MLR will be the pinnacle of the American rugby, and provide a rallying point for local communities, a focal point for American rugby fans, and an aspirational destination for young athletes.
About Rugby United New York
Rugby United New York is a professional rugby team joining Major League Rugby as an associate member in 2018 before playing a full MLR schedule in 2019. RUNY's vision is to bring the excitement of professional rugby to the New York sport landscape and use rugby’s core values of teamwork, respect and discipline, to educate, inspire and connect with the community. Rugby United New York, the state's first professional rugby team, strives to unite the entire rugby community and enrich it at every level throughout the region. The team was founded by James Kennedy of the Murphy Kennedy Group, who is an active supporter of grassroots rugby, and is co-owned by WWE legend John Layfield, who runs Beyond Rugby Bermuda, a charity working with at risk kids through rugby.