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Major League Rugby's New York Ironworkers join Toronto Arrows in folding

Canada's Andrew Coe is tackled by Madison Hughes of the United States, in their men's rugby sevens 5-8 placing match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. The New York Ironworkers, who won the Major league Rugby championship in 2022. have joined the Toronto Arrows in closing shop. The league confirmed the franchise was folding. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Shuji Kajiyama

The New York Ironworkers, who won the Major League Rugby championship in 2022, have joined the Toronto Arrows in closing shop.

The league confirmed Wednesday that the New York franchise was folding.

"We’re disappointed and saddened to announce the withdrawal of the New York Ironworkers from Major League Rugby, particularly knowing the commitment and pride of its players and staff, as well as the fervent passion of its fan base," the league said in a statement.

The New York team was home to Canadian internationals Andrew Coe and Quinn Ngawati.

"Completely gutted but will look back on my time in New York fondly. Lots of friends and memories made in the greatest city in the world," Coe said in a social media post.

New York players were told the club had been unable to find an "appropriate buyer."

The Arrows folded in late November, unable to carry on after the death in August of Bill Webb, the club's majority owner, president and general partner, from prostate cancer. He was 59.

The league has yet to provide details of the player dispersal process involving both clubs.

"The latest setbacks underscore the need for players to be involved as true stakeholders if the league is to succeed," the U.S. Rugby Players Association said in a statement.

"In both situations, players already had contracts in place and leases signed," the players' statement added. "Some had already moved across the globe with their families, many had their flights purchased. The news is truly unfortunate, but we cannot overlook how the league allowed this to unfold so soon to the start of the new season.

"Many of the Toronto and New York players will be left without options as other MLR teams have already filled their rosters and reached their cap space under league rules. Additionally, many players have incurred out-of-pocket expenses for moving and housing, and some are still owed funds from last season."

In August, the MLR announced the Atlanta franchise is moving to Los Angeles, upon closing of the team's acquisition by the new ownership group. The Atlanta move will fill the void left by the Los Angeles Giltinis, who folded before the 2023 season along with the Austin Gilgronis.

The league cited uncertainties surrounding the Austin and Los Angeles team ownership in suspending operations of the two sides. Australian entrepreneur Adam Gilchrist owned both franchises, named after cocktails.

MLR, North America's only pro rugby league, started with seven teams in 2018. Like the Arrows, Rugby New York — previously known as Rugby United New York — played an exhibition season before coming on board in 2019.

The league operated with 12 teams in 2023 with the expansion Miami Sharks slated to join the fold next season.

"Major League Rugby remains strong and the owners across the league are committed to success heading into 2024 and beyond, the league said in its statement. "In the past six months, we’ve welcomed an expansion team in Miami, relocated a team to Los Angeles, and signed new deals with rugby organizations around the globe to expand coverage on our OTT (streaming) platform, the Rugby Network.

"We have brought several new partners to the table in our bid to grow the game of rugby in North America. Major League Rugby is embarking on its own positive evolution as a professional sports league."


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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