Peter Lupton: The rugby league 'pioneer' living the American dream

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
Peter Lupton
Peter Lupton won five caps for Wales and played at the 2013 World Cup

They call the USA the land of opportunity, but former Wales playmaker Peter Lupton's American dream was almost over before it had started.

Lupton, who played Super League for London, Hull FC, Castleford and Crusaders, moved his family 3,091 miles from his native Cumbria to Boston, Massachusetts to start a new life.

His plans to play both rugby codes suffered an early setback when he received serious facial injuries during a game.

"I broke my cheekbone, eye socket and jaw. I've got two plates and 10 screws in my face now," Lupton told BBC Sport.

"At the time I didn't have any insurance, and the medical bill was about $23,000. USA rugby union had an insurance under their association so they paid most of that, and the Wolfhounds [his union club] are paying the rest hopefully.

"The bill came through the front door, but they told me not to pay for anything."

"It's the little things"

Thankfully things have worked out fine for Lupton, who is now over the injury and starting a pioneering stint as a former professional in the US game.

Off the field such eye-watering insurance premiums have taken some getting used to, even with American wife Lisa helping smooth his transition to a new country.

The quiet town of Millom in west Cumbria is very different to the bustling city he now calls home, and where he plays league for the Boston 13s and union with the Wolfhounds.

"My wife knows the ins and outs, but in Massachusetts, you have to have medical insurance or you are fined at the end of the year - and it's not cheap either," said 34-year-old Lupton.

"It's still a grind financially, it cost a lot of money to get over here. Boston is the second most expensive city to live in.

"If the parents work, the childcare to look after your kids will take half of your wages away."

Work and play

He has enjoyed the trappings of a full-time Super League contract; a few hours training, coffees with the lads and then home to relax for the rest of the day.

Life is very different in the United States, where his clubs have helped to find him paid employment.

"I'm roofing at the minute, it's more going round estimating jobs, visiting and supervising the other guys, making sure they're doing the job right and making sure they're there on time," he said.

"I just jumped straight into it, I was scared of heights back in England, but I decided when I came to a new place I could be whoever what I want to be, I could reinvent myself."

He continued: "Now I'm enjoying life, and helping young players to play the game, it's about not being too serious.

"When it's the job you get involved, you bring your feelings home if you have a bad game, but now if I do, I do."

Both codes thriving

Peter Lupton
Peter Lupton played Super League for several clubs, such as Hull FC, Castleford and London.

In contrast to the schism between the two codes in heartlands like the UK, France and Australia, they help each other in the US, with a shared player base driving interest in 'rugby' as a whole.

Lupton's arrival at the 13s, where former Gateshead winger Robin Peers and ex-NRL star Dustin Cooper are coaches, is helping to spread the nuances of the game.

"They are all for it, buying into the same thing, both union and league, and it's all going in one direction," Lupton continued.

"You have five or six players who have picked up the game really quick and know what they're doing, then there are people coming who haven't played the game - maybe American football or rugby union players - they don't know a single rule but they pick it up really quick.

"They've got so much enthusiasm to learn. Here, the young players listen to everything you say, they do it and will say that works, and I get more out of that than scoring 10 tries in a game."

Raw materials

USA rugby league competed at the 2013 World Cup
The USA were represented at the 2013 World Cup, largely by Australian players from the NRL

Now retired from the professional game, Lupton is relishing the chance to nurture players of the future in Boston.

There has been much interest in the Toronto side across the border in Canada that will enter the UK rugby league system in 2017, travelling to places such as Hemel Hempstead, Wrexham, Newcastle and Hunslet.

The athletic ability of the players has convinced Lupton that one day an American club like Boston can follow suit.

"I went to my first training session and I was surprised," he said. "Some of the speed in the drills is unbelievable, in England players have the skills and then have to develop their body, but here it's the other way round.

"With a bit of help from people who have played in the UK or Australia, they can guide it better and hopefully get a strong team so they can do a Toronto or set up a professional league so it takes the game forward."

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