Yanks play rugby league, 1953

Yanks play rugby league, 1953
Cinesound Movietone Productions
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This is a newsreel story from 1953 about the arrival of an American rugby league team in Australia.

There has always been a cautious fascination between Australian and American football codes. The 2015 media storm that followed Jarryd Hayne's attempt to break into the American game is a case in point but a number of Australians have played for American teams since the 1960s. Colin Ridgway was the first, having played three games with the Dallas Cowboys in 1965. While Aussie Rules players in particular have 'defected' to the American league, often for their punting skills, Americans playing rugby league or joining Australian rugby teams have been less common.

Surprisingly, rugby has been played in America as early as the late 19th century, but it wasn't until 1953 that it got something of a curious kickstart through the efforts of Mike Dimitro, a wrestling promoter and NFL (National Football League) veteran with the Los Angeles Rams. Dimitro scraped together a group of largely college students, called them the 'American All Stars', and organised a tour of Australia and New Zealand. Not having played rugby before, these players were trained by Norman 'Latchem' Robinson. Robinson was a rugby league player, coach, selector and club administrator for the Balmain Tigers and a selector and manager for the City, State and National sides. He was also the NSW coach in 1948 and Australian coach in 1958. 

The tour generated much media hype and audience interest. Coming as it did not long after the end of the Second World War, it's hard to deny there was a level of national rivalry and machismo on show.

In their first two matches the Americans wore gridiron-style uniforms before switching to the more familiar footy shorts and would at times thrill the crowd with quarterback-style passes of the ball from one side of the field to the other.

By the end of the tour the All Stars had played 26 matches in Australia and New Zealand, winning 6, drawing 2 and losing 18. The experience was enough for one player, Al Kirkland, to return to Australia in 1956 to play a season with the Parramatta Eels where he scored four tries. He then spent a year with English club Leeds. Kirkland is just one of three Americans to play first grade football in Australia.