Writing on his blog (http://www.wearerugby.com), AMNRL President, David Nui, explains the exhaustive process he and the selection team went through in picking a representative squad for this season’s Rugby League Atlantic Cup games.
“The selection of Vaka Manupuna is a real indication of the potential pool of talent we can and will tap into throughout the USA,” said AMNRL president David Niu.
“We have some great talent identification plans in place nationally. Vaka and Sione Taufa validate our efforts to recruit top level athletes to move rugby league forward in the USA in all our regions.
“There are dedicated groups throughout America keen to develop rugby league interest in their regions. Chicago and Hawaii are good examples of this expansion. They are an integral part of the AMNRL strategic plan and core mission to develop rugby league in the USA.”
The 22-man squad is a blend of experience and youth, with a dash of vim from a possee of crossover athletes.
Amongst the crossovers are a couple of former NCAA Division 1 footballers. Jacksonville Axemen’s own Akarika Dawn, a linebacker, and former Washington Redskins and New York Jets practice squad signing Vaka Manupuna. Both men played with the University of Colorado; with tackle, Manupuna, earning an honourable mention as an All Big-12 Conference player.
Indeed Manupuna – who has also played in the Arena Football League with the League with the Utah Blaze and Spokane Shock – is similar in style to Fui Fui Moi Moi of the Australian NRL’s Parramatta Eels.
Add in another couple of NCAA football players in brothers Apple and Tate Pope, a former US U19 Rugby Union speedster in Sione ‘Pila’ Taufa and a second AFL player, Matt Thornton and you can see that some quality athletes are being attracted to the game.
Taufu – who clocks 4.3 second over 40 metres – hails from Maui as does Manupuna and is reckoned to be one their fastest players – another Flyin’ Hawaian?
Thornton, who debuted for the Tomahawks in Tomahawks in 2000, caps a successful return from injury and a championship season at the Axemen, with a second stint in the national team.
He teams up with another two Axemen making their international debuts; Aussies Brent Shorten – who’s dynamic pivot play helped power the Axemen to their first AMNRL championship in 2010 – and and Damien O’Malveney. Both qualify for selection after spending a three-year stint in the AMNRL.