BLYTHEWOOD, SC (WIS) - Just about every athlete looks for ways to keep their competitive juices flowing. From basketball to soccer, their options are practically limitless. However, a select few choose to play rugby.
“Well, of course, rugby is a game that, in the United States, it’s not as well-known as football and basketball and so forth,” said Carolina Rugby League coach Geoff Mason, “but what we find is people really enjoy the participation because the great thing about rugby league is you can run with the ball, you can tackle, it’s not a one-dimensional thing. So, if you’re a lineman in football, you’re only doing one thing. In rugby league, you’re doing a variety of different things -- running, passing, tackling, the whole thing.”
For Andy Lucas, the creator behind the Carolina9s Festival, finding a way to increase the popularity of the sport in the U.S. was a challenge he undertook wholeheartedly. Connecting with coaches and players from across the Carolinas, Lucas wanted to create something that provided former athletes with the chance to remain active while giving the community a new outlet for entertainment.
“The biggest question for us is what happens when a lot of these players don’t get into professional sports…what happens to them?” Lucas asked. “Well, they don’t go further. They happen to go into a normal job or whatever. We feel like bringing in Rugby League or the Carolina9s gives them an opportunity to showcase the talent they really have.
More than 30 players made their way to the Midlands for Sunday’s Carolina Rugby League Combine. Most of the players have previous experience in rugby union, but they immediately became familiar with Rugby League Nines.
“I’ve been playing something completely different for 10 years,” said Carolina Rugby League player Brieanna Carlson. “So, retraining my brain has been super interesting. But I really like the potential and the growth that this has. It has a lot of the skills I’m pretty used to. It’s just transitioning it into more fun parts.”
“It was a great turnout,” said Carolina Rugby League coach Garen Casey. “Both the men and the women are really keen and eager to try a new sport. Rugby League is just such an open and expansive sport. It’s very fast-paced. It’s a great sport for people to come and watch because it is so quick and it’s very skillful so those similarities of their actual skills actually transition very well between both codes.”
In May, the Sport Performance Tracking Carolina9s Festival will take place here in the Midlands. Sixteen men’s and sixteen women’s teams from across the country will make their way to Columbia to battle in the inaugural event. For the host team, winning the inaugural festival is the goal.
“We’re shooting to win,” said Carolina Rugby League player Jack Byer. “We don’t come out here to get second best. I know there are going to be some teams travelling from different parts of the country. I’m sure there will be some really good talent on display. We really at this point have got to focus on getting the basics down and, from there, kind of evolving our game, adding some elements to it -- little wider passing, some kicks, some chases, things like that, but we’re definitely going to win. So, we’re excited for the opportunity.”
The Sport Performance Tracking Carolina9s Festival will kick off on May 25 at Saluda Shoals Park.