At the recent touch football World Cup, the USA went from being ranked 22nd in the world to sixth.
Newcastle Knights touch men’s player Lincoln Little has been one of the driving forces on their road to improvement.
“The USA going into the world cup, they were never really in contention with the Aussie team,” Little said.
“This world cup we actually put in a lot of work to try and catch them, and we finished sixth overall, a big jump in the rankings.”
Because Lincoln’s dad is American, he’s has dual eligibility in the sport.
“In touch, because it is a developing sport, you can represent your parent’s heritage,” said Little.
“I am technically eligible for the US or the Australian team.”
He’s been a member of the US team for the past five years.
He’s played in two World Cups and most years competes in the US nationals.
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A highly ranked player in the US, Little frequently travels to America, all expenses paid.
His input an important factor in America’s rise to compete with powerhouse countries like Australia and New Zealand.
“A lot of the time they will fly me over there to play and to get involved in the team and help to develop combinations,” added Little.
“I get to go over and have a fair bit of say.”
The sport is fairly new in the states, but its popularity is growing and so is their budget.
“On a yearly basis we have about 850,000 participants Australia wide in the local comps and America has something like 10,000 participants,” explained Little.
“There’s so many more sports to choose from over there and there’s not much league or union so they don’t have the base skills that a lot of people have here.
“Here you could grab any rugby league team out of the local comp and put them in a touch comp, and they’ve got all the base skills already.
“The thing that helps is that it is tied to the rugby sevens in the US.
“Sevens is America’s fastest growing sport at the moment and they’re trying to establish a relationship there similar to what NRL has done with touch football here.
“They do pretty serious camps in the build-up.
“Last one was at the Olympic centre, so they’ve got far less players but a lot more money.”
And with dual eligibility, Little can decide to play for Australia, if he was selected.
He would require a release from the US, but they have made a deal with the Novocastrian he’s free to do so if he wishes.
He’s thought about it. He’s still not sure what he’d do.
“In terms of that decision I honestly don’t think I will ever have to make it, but if I did, I don’t know I’d have to give it a long think,” he said.