Not bad for a debut.
The Southampton Dragons Rugby League team walloped the Aston Bulls, 60-6, in their inaugural game at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor under sunny skies on Saturday. The team, which was created by Hampton Bays resident Craig Priestly and Sag Harbor resident Teddy Graboski, is a member of the semi-professional American National Rugby League, and will compete in the Atlantic Conference, which includes six other teams: the New York Knights, Connecticut Wildcats, Aston Bulls (Pennsylvania), Bucks County Sharks, Northern Raiders and Northern Virginia Eagles. The season will run through August. The AMNRL was founded in 1998 and is the governing body for the development of the sport of rugby league in the United States.
The team did not keep detailed statistics for its first game, but Priestly said that 10 different players scored tries (worth four points each) or goal kicks (two points each). Rob Ploch, a Bethpage resident, was named the team’s Man of the Match, and Priestly added that Dane Riva, a Sag Harbor resident, also played well. Priestly scored 20 points for the team, on 10 goal kicks. East Hampton residents and East Hampton High School graduates Connor Miller and Brendan Mott also played well, according to Priestly.
Priestly said he did not expect his team would enjoy such a dominant margin of victory in its first official game.
“They’re the first team that was ever built in this competition 16 years ago,” he said. “They’re usually a dominant side.”
The Dragons are a diverse group, with a combination of experienced and rookie players as well as players who live locally and those who make the trip from up the island and even Connecticut to compete on the team. Priestly, who picked up the sport when he was just five years old, played professionally in his native Australia. He has lived in the states for three years, and is a personal trainer at Core Dynamics in Water Mill. A few of the players on the team have experience playing with the Montauk Sharks rugby team, such as Graboski. Some are former members while some, like Miller, still play on both teams. The Sharks do not play in the summer, which allows players who want to play on both teams to do so without a scheduling conflict.
The Sharks are also a rugby union team, which is different than rugby league. Rugby union is generally considered to be more physical, while rugby league is considered by some to be more strategic. In rugby league, only 13 players are on the field at a time for each team, as opposed to 15 in rugby union. There is less tackling in rugby league because there is a limit of six tackles per possession allowed. Despite those differences, Priestly said, it’s not difficult for players familiar with the game to compete in both divisions. And he added that even those who have never played the game, but have athletic backgrounds in sports such as football, lacrosse or soccer, can easily learn the basics and become successful players.
Priestly said that while the victory over the Bulls was a nice way to kick off the season, he didn’t expect his squad to enjoy easy wins in the next two games. The Dragons will travel to Connecticut on Friday night to take on the Wildcats, who made the finals in the last two years. On June 29, Southampton will be back at Mashashimuet Park to host the Knights, who were the champions of the league in the last two years. He said he hoped that fans or anyone curious about rugby would come out to the park in Sag Harbor on the 29th to help root the team on in its battle with the Knights.
A few players on the team will also get an opportunity to compete on a bigger stage. Priestly and Damien O’Malveney, a player from Connecticut, were selected to play on July 6 on the USA team in the first of three scheduled games against Canada. Priestly played in a similar game, representing the U.S. against a team from Samoa, in Hawaii two weeks ago. The international contests are set up to help the U.S. try to identify the 24 best players to represent the country in the World Cup in England at the end of October.
For more information on the Dragons, visit southamptondragons.com.