Cortalano Leading by Example

Charles ‘CJ’ Cortalano is one of the stalwarts of American rugby league and is setting a fine example for younger up and coming players in the United States.
Cortalano Leading by Example

He started his playing career at college where he played rugby before joining a men’s club.

Eventually he switched to rugby league and has been playing in the national clubs competition ever since capping it off with a berth in the national team that went to last year’s World Cup.

“It was definitely an experience of a lifetime,” says Cortalano about the RLWC.

“We had some great coaches that spent a lot of time with us helping to develop us, as well as introducing new skills to us - things that we were able to bring back to our clubs.”

He says his advice to younger players with aspirations of playing for the national league team, the USA Hawks, is to be committed.

“It all starts with putting in a lot of hard work, it’s not something that happens overnight.

“Unlike a lot of other countries, we have a limited amount of time to get our competition in and get players developed, so what I tell them is take advantage of every opportunity and put the hard work in now if it’s something that you’re seriously interested in.

“It’s an ongoing process.”

As is the case with several other current players in the USARL domestic competition, Cortalano is a player/coach with the White Plains Wombats.

He joined the club last year after moving over from the New York Knights and says one of the more common misconceptions associated with the game in the United States is that because it’s not a primary sport and is relatively new here, the standard of play must somehow not be up to scratch.

However, he says that is definitely not so and having guys bringing back experiences from the World Cup also helps to raise the standards.

“One thing we’re really good at is that we’re physical and from what I’ve been told by other players that come here it’s a lot more physical than what they’re used to.

“One of the bigger differences obviously being newer to this country is that the skills and the little nuances of the game are trying to catch up.

“We’re not there, but each year we’re building on it and guys like myself, Nick [Newlin] and Dave [Ulch] having the opportunity to work with other more seasoned players really helps us bring a different standard to our game.”

In his early days while playing college rugby, Cortalano was selected as an All-Star and named on the All-American ballot.

He still plays and coaches union today as for the most part it doesn’t clash with the rugby league summer season.

Cortalano believes the sooner players can be introduced to rugby league in the States the better and getting the game added to college sports programs would be one way to do that.

However, that said, he’s also aware that the logistics involved in doing so, plus building a support network for it requires a good deal of time and energy.

“While we do a pretty good job right now developing on a men’s level, I think that’s something we need to continue with and work below that at a youth level and really get started at a much younger age.

“That’ll bring a lot more interest to the college level.”

While there is currently no women’s rugby league in the US, he’s supportive of a women’s competition being started up at some point saying it can only benefit the sport in general.

“I think any shape or form that we can get more footy being played would be better for all of us.”