Leeds Rhinos' Australia Day Challenge showdown with South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday will be the biggest thing ever to happen to rugby league in America.
Leeds Rhinos' Australia Day Challenge showdown with South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday will be the biggest thing ever to happen to rugby league in America. That's the prediction of event organiser Daryl 'Spinner' Howland, an Aussie who now lives in Florida and is co-founder of the local Jacksonville Axemen RL team. Souths co-owner Russell Crowe's decision to attend the event has captured news headlines here in the Sunshine State. Howland claims that, plus Leeds' status as British champions, will make Saturday's clash at North Florida University a hugely significant occasion for the 13-a-side code. "On the back of this we think we'll benefit here in Jacksonville - 10,000 people watching rugby league," Howland told the Yorkshire Evening Post. "Also, with the profile this event brings nationally and internationally, people will now be aware that there's rugby league in America. "We hope all the teams in the American National Rugby League get some exposure from this and people realise there is some infrastructure. "I think this will probably be, since the AMRL has been formed and there has been a structured competition here, the biggest event profile-wise for the sport here in America. "This, potentially, could be the catalyst. No one has pipedreams, we realise it has to be relatively structured and in our own little way, but it will happen from this event. Now people will be aware of the sport here and that can only be a good thing for everyone involved." The Rhinos-Souths clash is Howland's brainchild. He explained: "I heard that Souths and Leeds had a partnership and they were looking to come to America for a camp and potentially a game. "It was a pretty simple deal, I got hold of the people I needed to get hold of and put Jacksonville up as a potential option. It's in Florida, which is not a bad place to be at this time of year, especially from a British perspective. "And Jacksonville has a history in rugby league. The Jacksonville Axemen are here and it will assist us and the AMRL. "That's great and UNF have been having rugby league teams come here for the past five years now, so they're familiar with the sport - Salford, Halifax and Leeds have been here in the past. It wasn't my call, but I put something up and said this is what we can handle in Jacksonville and this is what we can provide. "The city of Jacksonville have been fantastic behind this event, their support has been incredible. After the event got the nod, sponsors came on board and said we think this is great. "Ticket sales are going exceptionally well, so it's obviously something unique that people are interested in." Of Crowe's involvement, Howland added: "We don't want to turn it into the Russell Crowe show, but you've got to applaud the guy. "He is the main attraction for people in America who don't know rugby league. A lot of fans are coming because of Russell Crowe's name, but at the end of the day they will all sit and watch the sport of rugby league. "You've got to applaud two teams from other countries who are coming into unknown territory to play a game that people here don't know - people are still asking us do you use sticks to play that game! Rugby union has a great infrastructure here, but rugby league has the advantage. It has a lot of similarities with American Football. "It think they are going to watch on Saturday and say 'okay, I get this - I can understand that'. "It's a simpler game for Americans to understand and it's simplicity becomes the attraction." To listen to an interview with Howland now simply click here