No MLR side is ready to compete with a Super Rugby side on the pitch. However, the competition is heating up off the field.
With Major League Rugby gaining traction in the global rugby ecosystem, American sides are pilfering more talent from New Zealand. In addition to aged stars looking for one more adventure, the MLR is doing more damage at the bottoms of Super Rugby rosters.
Ina recent interview with RugbyPass, Auckland Blues coach acknowledged the challenges posed by the growth of the MLR. This coincides with Moana Pasifika expansion Super Rugby franchise joining the Blues in Auckland, as well as continued player competition from Japan and Europe.
“We’ve got an American league that’s started up and they’re pulling a lot of players in the NPC, and obviously we’ve got the traditional rivals with Japan and Europe, who have been taking players for a long time.”Leon MacDonald, via RugbyPass
New Zealand’s professional rugby landscape. Most Super Rugby players spend the second half of the year playing for either the All Blacks or in the domestic NPC competition. Since the Super Rugby season runs parallel to the Major League Rugby season, the MLR provides a unique alternative for younger players. Top NPC players that would be resigned to the bottom of a Super Rugby roster are choosing to come to the States were they’ll see significant playing time. Players like Dan Hollinshead of RUNY can ply their trade on the field instead of simply doing skills work off to the side. While not a Kiwi, Aussie Harrison Goddard is another example of the significant talent being left at the end of Super Rugby benches with limited opportunities to grow in the provincial set up.
The competition for talent could grow even more intense in the coming years. If MLR imports can convert their American experiences into starting opportunities in bigger leagues(either in Super Rugby, Europe, or Japan), more prospects will see the pathway as a viable alternative.