Henson Setting New Goals in Philly

Now into his fourth season as player/coach with the Philadelphia Fight, Rich Henson has reached a point at which his goals for the USARL club are starting to shift.
Henson Setting New Goals in Philly

An owner of the Fight, Henson, who started playing for the club in 2009, says his focus nowadays is more about coaching and administrative success for the club than it is about his personal playing experience.

“Obviously, we want to win more championships, but we need to develop the culture,” he says.

“With this being an amateur league with only one grade, players are free to come and go as they please. So, there's a line, do we make it about the performance or about the culture? If it's performance, certain players don't get the same amount of time, which becomes a problem. On the flipside, you have to win otherwise no one has fun. So, my goal is to develop a strong culture around the club where people want to be there.”

Henson, whose entire playing career has been with Philadelphia, says he started coaching in 2015 when he made arrangements with previous head coach Peter Illfield to take the helm that year.

Illfield was planning to leave in 2016, so this gave them some time to bounce ideas around while he slowly transitioned into the player/coach role.

His first two seasons with the Fight were when the club was still part of the AMNRL, prior to the USARL launching its own club competition in 2011.

So, what does he make of any differences between the two leagues?

“During that time, I was still getting used to rugby league in general,” continues Henson. “Because of that, it's difficult to truly assess the standards of both against each other.

“What I can say is that the discrepancy of talent between each team is smaller in the USARL than the AMNRL. I feel that the games in the AMNRL were almost always pre-determined, you almost knew who was going to win prior to kickoff. I do want to point out that the AMNRL was the introduction to rugby league to me. Regardless of animosity between the leagues, I owe a lot to guys like David Niu, who worked to get an organized league going here in the States.”

Henson also went on the Fight’s tour of England in 2011 during which the players were given access to facilities of Super League clubs Wigan and St Helens, as well as attending a practice session at Warrington.

Niu and former Bucks County Sharks player Phil Shipos had key roles in helping to organize that tour at a time when the Fight had signaled it planned to join the USARL.

Henson’s playing career reached an even higher level in 2015 when he was called up for the USA Hawks.

He debuted during the Colonial Cup series against Canada, before being drafted into the team later that year when they went on their triumphant run through the Rugby League World Cup qualifiers that got them to last year’s World Cup.

“Playing for the USA was amazing,” he recounts.

“It's an amazing honor to wear the jersey. I was able to captain the side as well, which was probably too much for me at the time.

“My best rugby league experience would be representing the USA during the 2015 RLWCQ. It was a glimpse of what a professional player does on a day to day basis.”

Henson wasn’t able to be part of the team that went to the 2017 World Cup because he couldn’t get time off from his profession as a geologist, something he says was a huge let down.

However, despite that, he’s now working towards getting back into the national team.

“I was removed from the player pool,” he says. “It demoralized me quite a bit for the 2017 season.

“This year, I began training hard again, and really working to get back into the pool. I feel that my form has been very good, I have done all that I can. Hopefully the selectors see it the same way.”