Clint Newton will be back in the red and blue of Newcastle next season, but has some work to do with the USA Tomahawks before then. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
With millions of Americans set to get their first look at rugby league during the 2013 World Cup, star USA recruit Clint Newton says the tournament is a golden opportunity to spread the game in the world's most powerful nation.
It's been a busy time for Newton. He's switched clubs from the Panthers to the Knights, is preparing to play for the USA Tomahawks in a game 13 years in the making, and became a father for the first time just days before flying out to the World Cup.
"It's fairly hectic, but it's all worth it," Newton says of his first few days of fatherhood.
Newton missed the USA's shock win over France in their warm-up game a week out from the tournament but has already made an impact on the World Cup, having organised for all 14 national squads to donate a signed jersey to be auctioned to raise funds for Australia's recent bushfire victims.
When Newton takes the field for the USA against the Cook Islands on Wednesday night (Thursday morning Australia time) it'll be an international debut that's been a long time coming. The Newcastle Knights junior was born in South Carolina where his father Jack plied his trade as a leading professional golfer, and he's been linked to the Tomahawks for more than a decade.
"The relationship probably started in 2000 when I first was in contact with (former American National Rugby League president) David Niu. He asked if I would be available to play for them and I jumped at the chance," Newton told NRL.com.
"But the sliding doors just haven't lined up since that time. I was picked for the Junior Kangaroos in 2000 so that took precedence, and pretty much every year since then I've needed surgery at the end of the season, other than in 2004 when I was suspended.
"So it's been 13 years in the making, so I better have a fair dig because it's been a long time coming!"
Newton said while his squad of underdogs had no intention to simply make up the numbers at the tournament, they've got a bigger goal in mind than just winning games. With millions of Americans expected to see the Tomahawks in action during the tournament, the World Cup shapes as the perfect opportunity to showcase rugby league to the United States.
"They expect there could be upwards of 10 to 15 million viewers over the course of the World Cup campaign in America, just based on the fact that the time zone works perfectly for them," he said.
"So it's just about representing the country in the best possible way – both on and off the field – and growing the game. I think if all the players can play to their potential it will be a successful tournament. If we can pass on some knowledge to the other guys that they can take back to their domestic competition, then that will be a successful tournament.
"We're certainly not going there to make up the numbers. I know we're the rank outsiders – we're not expected to win the thing – but we're human like everyone else and there's no better feeling than winning. We'll be going into games wanting to win. If that doesn't happen but we put in a good performance then we can walk away with our heads held high."
Newton's extensive history in the game – he has won NRL premierships with Newcastle and Melbourne and played in the English Super League with Hull Kingston Rovers – makes him a natural fit to play a mentor role for the less-experienced players in the American squad.
"That's a big part of the reason I wanted to get involved, the fact that these guys need as much information and knowledge passed on to them to help grow the domestic game. So I'm looking forward to sitting down with them and giving them as much advice as possible so they can go back and pass it on to others.
"I've played that role in my time in England and in the time I've spent at Penrith. That was kind of in the job description Phil (Gould) gave me at the Panthers, to pass on the knowledge I've got and mentor those younger guys.
"I feel that's been a success at both those clubs and I'm looking forward to doing that with the Tomahawks and again with the crop of next-big-things at Newcastle."