ST. ALBANS — This summer, Franklin County athletes will have the opportunity to take part in a sport that’s not necessarily a household name in northern Vermont--yet.
Justin Tucker and company have their sights set on establishing a semi-professional rugby league club in the east coast tradition--one that will allow athletes to hold a 9-5 job while still playing a sport they enjoy.
“When it was established, Rugby League was more for the working class guys, while Union Rugby was played by the elite,” explained Tucker.
“League is blue-collar, hard-working rugby, while Union is what people think of when they think of rugby--it’s the affluent colleges and the Rugby World Cup.”
Tucker is envisioning a three to five-year plan for establishing the program in the county.
“We’d like to go from a club team to a pro team. By the three year mark, we want to bring in players and allow for salary,” explained Tucker.
“By the five-year mark, we’d like to include international players from Australia or England.”
This year is set to be the developmental year, a time to introduce the sport to the area.
“We want to bring local players in and raise their knowledge and ability of the game,” said Tucker.
“We’ve got a development camp coming up with a Boston team, and we hope to be taking players down to Boston.”
Tucker has worked with small and large rugby league programs, including a large league in Jacksonville, FL, where he was stationed with the Navy.
“Ultimately, my goal is to get a Vermonter onto the U.S. National Rugby Team,” said Tucker.
“Most national players are pulled from the USA Rugby League. The goal is to get as many American born players onto the National Team.”
Tucker moved to Vermont in June of 2019, and he’s enjoyed living in the area.
“I feel like I’m back home with the way people interact and the sense of community. It’s just not as flat as Oklahoma,” said Tucker with a chuckle.
Tucker knows that small communities can be low on athletic prospects for graduated athletes.
“I’d like to provide another opportunity for local athletes, and we want to give this enough time to be successful,” said Tucker.
“The first step is to get people in the community playing. We want to expose athletes to the sport--they may play it and fall in love with it.”
Athletes from the St. Albans area and beyond are welcome to take part in the program when it kicks off this summer.
“We’re open to anyone at this point, and we are taking the time to teach anyone who is interested in learning the game,” said Tucker.
“We’ve created the Vermont Tag league for those who want to learn the game in a non-contact, co-ed, social environment. We also hope to start a youth team at some point.”
Rugby games will be played at Hard’ack on a field that’s the same size as a football field.
Tucker hopes to have a competitive team, the Queen City Royals Rugby League Club assembled by next summer.
“Our biggest challenge will be travel. In the Northern Division, we will still have to travel to Philly to compete,” explained Tucker.
Any athletes 16 and older are welcome to join and can make contact with the program through Facebook on the Queen City Royals page or on Twitter @queenroyals.
The program is also looking for team supporters.
“The only way it will work is if we can get the people behind it. I love it, I’ve played it, and I’ve seen many come to love it. It’s a game that’s marketable to the people in the area,” said Tucker.
“We are committed to educating people on what we are trying to do and where we want to go with it. It’s a good opportunity for the communities up here to play a great game.”
Tucker is confident a community with such a passion for football will have no trouble embracing the game of rugby.
“There’s not a big learning curve to rugby because it’s pretty close to American football. As we mature and travel and represent Vermont, I think we can build something really good,” said Tucker.
“We’re in this for the long haul! We will get up every day and do our best to keep moving it forward.”