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Soward: Eye-opening US trip could be just the start

I was recently lucky enough to travel to America and spend a week training a talented young footy player named Aaron there in the streets of downtown Compton.

It was an eye-opening experience and it certainly got me thinking that there is more we as a game could be doing to encourage the growth of the sport over there and potentially create a few more pathways and maybe eventually grow the player pool through some of these talented young athletes who aren't going to make it in the NFL system.

Aaron is an elite, talented kid I came into contact with and we were able to hook up a session. He's an Aussie kid who's gifted in terms of rugby league and union who is looking to come back and attend Waverly College.

There were 12 guys there altogether and four or five were athletically very gifted, around 95 kilograms and can run like the wind but it was a real eye-opener when I rocked up and they had very limited resources – just four footballs and a few tackle pads.

But it's pretty surreal to be thinking our game is growing at such a rapid rate over the other side of the world that athletes like this are getting ready to play their first game of rugby league.

The success of the Toronto Wolfpack and the growth of the Brooklyn Kings in New York has been great for the game and there's lots of people working really hard behind the scenes for not much reward at the moment. They have to take the little wins when they can and this recent trip was one of those little wins.

The long-term plan should be for NRL clubs to employ someone to be able to get those guys like the ones I was working with recently up to a standard to potentially come over here on a next-generation type of contract like the NBL do for young American basketballers.

You could bring guys out and teach them the game because the skill set is something you can learn but the athleticism and speed and the fast-twitch muscle fibres, you can't teach that and these guys already have that. I would love to be involved in a pioneer type of program helping get these types of guys up to speed to even eventually get them an NRL contract.

The recent trip was about helping a talented group of guys get to grips with the basics, like getting onside and the play-the-ball, without any judgement or apprehension. You've got to take small steps and there are some great people working behind the scenes to get a game happening between the LA Mongrel and San Francisco Savage.

They've got a game on December 7 which will be a big step but I have no doubt, if I was ever in a position where I could travel and get the 16 best guys from across America and assign one to each NRL club to bring them out and work with them for a year, we'd see the benefits of that shine through and get the game growing internationally.

There are so many Tongan guys or guys from American Samoa over there, the Hawaiian Samoan guys – now's the time to strike. Some of them have played rugby, some have played NFL, and yes the fitness levels would have to come up because the guys I was working with were definitely surprised by how fit you'd need to be to play 80 minutes of NRL, but in terms of skill and bringing natural flair without complicating them with our shapes and styles, I was very impressed at their natural talent.

Full Match Replay: Kangaroos 9s v USA 9s - Round 2, 2019

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The key is trying to work out a way to persist with these guys long enough knowing we can probably never compete with the bright lights of the NFL or have that same level of resourcing, but just getting them some footballs and some coaching over there.

Every NRL club sends their coaches on research trips – maybe if each club was assigned an area to grow the game that could help in potentially getting a domestic comp up and running over there and from there you never know. You might be more chance at attracting some more talent and in five or 10 years you might be able to expand and then you've got a steady stream of American guys who aren't able to make it in the NFL wanting to come over and play our game.

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