It’s 88 degrees in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and after discussing the upcoming season, it’s time for the Kings’ newest players’ to introduce themselves.
“We usually ask the new blokes to give a description of themselves, where they’re from and their favorite sex position just to lighten the mood around the team, because some guys are a bit shy,” said head coach Brent Richardson – a native of Australia – with a smile.
The family laughs in unison as if they’re congregated at a Thanksgiving dinner table.
The Kings are entering their fifth season after being founded in 2014, and are one of 12 teams who compete in the USA Rugby League on a national level.
Their home field is Bushwick Inlet Park in Williamsburg, where they blew out their rival New York Knights this past Sunday evening – the only other New York City based USARL squad – 34-14.
It’s the biggest sport in Australia, but vastly overlooked and scarcely televised in the States. Rugby league - a different style of play from rugby union - has brought together a group of nearly 30 Kings for the 2018 campaign.
They’ve grown gradually with each passing season off the backs of men who just want to play the sport and pay $200 worth of dues to do so.
“We haven’t ever actively recruited in a big way, it’s kind of all been built through word of mouth,” said team founder and CEO Matthew Bailey, a former rugby player from Australia who came to New York on a one-way ticket five years ago.
“We were actually walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and we said, let’s start a team,” he said. “The first meeting we had five years ago, maybe 10 of us turned up and a few of those guys are still here today. A lot of these guys are from other countries, so we’re each other’s family here in New York.”
Bailey arrived from Australia with a desire to prove he could work in athletics, but had difficulties breaking into one of the major sports. But over five years, he’s proven the ability to operate the Kings as a business, which helped attain a director’s title in Global Partnerships at Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment early in 2016, a role that also helped the Kings gain sponsorships.
“I’ve never had to put a dollar of my money into a team before because we’ve got all these great sponsors here who enable us to travel,” said Bailey, who as a college student in Australia used to come to America to play rugby in between semesters, vowing to one day make the permanent move.
Part of the family operation is a willingness to open its doors to those in need. The Kings have taken in plenty of local Americans who’ve come from disadvantage families or were just in search of new opportunities.
A couple of standouts who’ve emerged are Shaniyat Chowdhury and Brandon Anderson, both of whom have ambitions to represent United States Rugby on a national level, but with entirely different paths to the Kings.
Chowdhury, 26, is a first-generation American who comes from a Bangladeshi family. A former Marine, Chowdhury was a football player at Information Tech High School in Long Island City, and later attended Queensborough Community College upon returning from his service.
He’s been with the Kings from the inaugural season ever since skipping a soccer practice, trusting the word of his best friend who had been playing rugby in Rhode Island.
“I said, ‘I don’t know anything about the game. I’ve never played it before,'” he recalled. “The only thing I knew was there was no pads, you throw the ball side to side and that’s about it. It was amazing, and I never went back to soccer practice.”
Anderson, 29, is joining the Kings for the 2018 season and comes from American football.
Anderson, who currently works as a personal trainer, was a running back and kick returner at division two Fort Valley State University in his native Georgia.
Out of college, he signed a deal with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League, but the team opted to go in a different direction with a more experienced running back two days later.
He landed tryouts with the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears in 2012, and later played professionally with NFL Europe in Germany prior to returning to the States, only to suffer a broken foot before training camp.
Anderson later converted to rugby, where he played in New Zealand and Australia. He spent last season competing in the New South Wales Cup.
“Being from Georgia I had no idea what rugby was,” said Anderson, who is now in his fourth season. “I just watched tons of film and kind of tried to fast track everything.
“I went up to Tiger Rugby, which is an Olympic development center in Columbus, Ohio, for a year, and trained five days a week, three times a day,” he added. “I just tried my best to master the game.”
It’s early for Anderson, but he says the Kings have made quite the impression on him in a short time. It’s a working-class game, but it’s paying dividends for the players even if the gain isn’t financial.
“No one’s getting paid big dollars,” said Richardson. “People work hard during the day and this is a way for them to let off steam. We certainly train hard and intense as you would see, but there’s also time for a little fun as well.”
The 1-0 Kings return to action on Saturday, June 9, against the Nova Eagles. The USARL playoffs begin on July 28.