While there’s been historical talk of Super Rugby expanding into Hawaii, it seems like Major League Rugby will touch down in the island state first, with a new team potentially set to join the American competition from as early as 2021.
The Colorado Raptors, who have played in all three of MLR’s seasons to date, have pulled out of the competition moving forward, which has opened up a spot for the Kanaloa Hawai’i side to join the competition almost immediately, providing that the island side pass the league’s expansion benchmarks.
While Kanaloa were always going to put a bid in to join America’s premier competition from 2022, the Raptors departure has fast-tracked the process.
“Hawai’i has got huge talent, huge potential,” said team manager Cam Kilgour. “It’s a massive island for growth and has no professional sports team. So we thought, look, let’s try to see if we can connect with other Hawaiians on the island and see if we can move this a lot quicker.”
Kilgour was previously rumoured to be joining the LA Giltinis and has previous experience with the South Canterbury Heartland Championship side in New Zealand as well as the Cook Islands national team.
Kanaloa have approached former All Blacks assistant coach and Austin Director of Rugby Mick Byrne to take over as head coach of the side while former All Black Tamati Ellison is also set to be involved in the coaching team.
While Honolulu, where the side will be based, is geographically some distance from the other sides in the competition, Kilgour is confident that the new side could manage flight times, costs and timezone issues.
“That was the key issue that we had to overcome; making sure there was no additional cost to any of the other MLR franchises. We’ve had great support from hotels and a local Hawaiian airline. We have said to MLR that we would cover all that.”
The Hawaiian team would join Major League Rugby as one of the western conference teams, pitting them against the likes of San Diego Legion and Seattle Seawolves. If the side join in 2021, one of Texas’ three teams would need to shift into the eastern conference – though that may be a temporary measure before more teams are added in following seasons.
According to Kilgour, Kanaloa will aim to have a roster made up of 25% local players – but that will be a challenge for the new club’s first few seasons. Attracting talent from the likes of New Zealand and Australia may not be such a tough hurdle for the new team, however, with NZ a 9-hour flight away from Hawaii. That could open the door for a number of Kiwis and Pacific Islanders to join the Hawaiian side’s cause.
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