Hampton Bays resident Craig Priestly simply loves the sport of rugby, which is why he created and now co-owns the new Southampton Dragons, a summer rugby team that will compete in the semi-professional American National Rugby League.
Priestly and co-owner Teddy Grabowski of Sag Harbor both played rugby professionally in Australia, and have wanted their own team for quite some time now.
“We both live out on the East End, and we both just believe that rugby league can grow big here,” said Priestly, who works as a trainer at Core Dynamics in Water Mill. “There are teams all around the Northeast … there are a lot of guys on Long Island interested in playing, and we just wanted to develop the sport out here and try and make rugby league big in America.”
The Dragons are not the only rugby team on the East End: The Montauk Sharks have been playing for a numbers of years, but the Sharks play during the spring and winter months, while the Dragons will compete during the busy summer season. But the main difference is that the Dragons are a rugby league team, whereas the Sharks are a rugby union team.
Priestly said rugby league is a little more strategy-based than rugby union and is similar to American football. Each team in rugby league gets six tackles per possession before it must score. There are 13 players on the field for each team, compared to the 15 that are on the field for each team in rugby union. And there are no “rocks” or “mauls”—which is when the players get in tight and fight for ball possession in rugby union. When a player is tackled in rugby union, play is stopped momentarily while the defensive team retreats 10 meters. While there is more stop-and-go during rugby league, it tends to move faster and have more contact than rugby union.
Some of the players on the Dragons are local, some are from up-island or from Connecticut. Some have played with the Montauk Sharks in the past, such as Grabowski and Brian Anderson, and some are new to the sport. There are about 15 players currently on the Dragons, and Priestly is always looking for more.
“If they’ve played football, lacrosse or soccer, they can come down and play rugby,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy game to teach.”
Southampton will also have 2011 Southampton graduate Isaiah Thomas on its team. Thomas played football at Southampton and has never played rugby before but is excited about the upcoming season. Thomas said he was approached by Priestly about coming out for the team while working out at Core Dynamics.
“I’ve went to about five or six practices so far, and I like it a lot,” Thomas said. “Ever since I was young, I’ve loved sports, so I was willing to try it out. I’m really excited. I can’t wait to get the season started.”
Southampton will be competing in the Atlantic Conference of the AMNRL, which was founded in 1998 and is the governing body for the development of the sport of rugby league in the United States. There are six other teams that make up the conference: the New York Knights, Connecticut Wildcats, Aston Bulls, Bucks County Sharks, Northern Raiders and Northern Virginia Eagles.
Each team in the conference has two home games. The Dragons will host their home games at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. Southampton has a bye the first week of the season and will play its first-ever game on June 15 at 3 p.m. against Aston. The final home game will be June 29, again at 3 p.m., against the New York Knights.
The Dragons are hosting the AMNRL 7’s Tournament—basically a scrimmage tournament before the start of the season—at Hampton Bays High School on Saturday, June 1, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Southampton Dragons are sponsored by the Southampton Publick House, Core Dynamics Gym in Water Mill and Landscape Details of Sag Harbor. For more information, go to southamptondragons.com.