This weekend, the Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP), one of the premier Men’s Division I competitions, kicks their season off. 2019 is shaping up to be one of their best seasons yet, with new pathways and challengers emerging. The look and feel of the competition may have changed in the off season, but the quality and intensity it brings will go unchanged.
After taking a break in 2017 the PRP was back in full swing for the 2018 season. It was a massively successful year, with their champions-Belmont Shore, making it all the way to the National Championship match. Despite the success of 2018, the PRP is more excited for 2019 as they progress to reaching their vision for the competition in 2020. “Transitioning back from the Cal Cup to the PRP getting them back on track so we can continue to progress in a professional manner,” noted PRP Director of Operations, Geno Mazza. Bruce Thomas- PRP’s sponsorship and branding expert added, ” In 2019, as the MLR (Major League Rugby) gets more defined, we’re hoping to see those partnerships between the PRP clubs and MLR clubs grow… We want the PRP to be a development pathway from elite club rugby to the MLR.”
Those pathways have already begun to take place, with Old Mission Beach Athletic (OMBAC) creating a partnership with the San Diego Legion. Bolstering their hopes to provide their players with a route to the MLR has been the addition of the Glendale Merlins. The Merlins, an original member of the PRP, have rejoined in 2019 after finishing third in the Red River Men’s Division I competition last year. Despite the middle of the table finish last year, Mazza is confident in their ability to compete right away. “They’re definitely going to compete. They’ve relooked at how their 2nd tier team operates…They’ve got a group of academy players training with the MLR players, so there should be a mix of experienced and young talented players.”
One of the reasons the PRP is captivating year in and year out comes from how close the teams are. Last year was no different at the end of the regular season the top three teams were all tied on 39 competition points. However, the other three teams were far behind the leaders. The lack of parity in the second half of the ladder is an issue they are actively attempting to solve, but with limited resources compared to professional competitions, it is not an easy fix; but according to Thomas, it is a fix built into the foundations of the competition. “All the teams playing in the PRP are aspiring for a higher standard of play. They could easily play against their local competition in Division II; but they play here because they are trying to find the best competition possible. With a commitment like that, it inherently means teams are always going to try and find ways to get better and more competitive.”
Development in the PRP is not just limited to its players and coaches, but they also strive to improve and enhance the skill set of the referees in their competition. This pursuit of bettering those around them has led to the adoption of a new model, taken from the success of the WPL model. Having previously used exclusively national panel referees, the PRP is now using referees from Southern California, Northern California and the Frontier to help develop their skills. Mazza explaining, “I’m interested to see the referee model. We used to only use National Panel referees for the whole season. Now we are working with Southern California, Northern California and the Frontier to create a pool and give them experience they otherwise would have missed.”
As they get ready for Saturday’s kickoff, they go into with an open mind. There is a feeling of excitement knowing that every team has the potential to go out and stake their claim at the crown. However, they will be paying close attention to how San Francisco Golden Gate and Glendale perform, as they are the only two clubs with full time coaches. Both Johnson and Mazza expressed an interest in seeing how Belmont Shore would defend their title, as many of their major components have left the club to join the MLR. It promises to be a thoroughly entertaining 11 round contest and, as was the case last year, there won’t be a clear winner until the final whistle has blown.