"Where I grew up in Queensland, rugby is probably the biggest sport there... and especially back in the 90’s when I grew up you just start playing rugby". We sat with USA international & London Broncos player Mark Offerdahl behind the scenes in The Performance Kitchen, in a big, white, very un-glamourous photography studio.
Mark, tell us a little more about where your desire to play in League came from?
"We played a lot of other sports but Rugby League was huge for us & we loved it. My Dad played a lot, and coached me for a few years so he was one of the driving forces behind it all".
You've enjoyed an unusual career path which has afforded you the opportunity to play & travel all over the world to the envy of many...
"I loved America. I lived on the East Coast in New York and Connecticut; made some great friends there. I did a little stint in Chicago… I’ll go back to America one day & set-up shop for a while I think.. [in London] There is just so much happening here it’s crazy, it is so busy and packed… There’s a lot of healthy stores here, but eating out, I find that hard. The take-away cuisine is not the healthiest… [laughs]"
Away from rugby, you & your brother-in-law have set-up your own business...
"At the start it was just to fill a gap that we saw in organic snack food, and try and bring something to the market. After some research we found it was quite a niche market that only wealthy individuals could afford, so we wanted to bridge that gap and educate people as to why it is so important to eat these types of food & snacks. Then it turned into a social enterprise where global warming, sustainable farming, poverty, pollution, clean energy and how it all ties-in together with what we are trying to do with organic food. So we created a social enterprise where we can use any profits to fix some of the social problems in the community globally"
You've been outspoken about just how important it is for sports people & athletes to have a life away from the game or track...
"Unless you’re a soccer player or a high profile rugby player earning millions, you need something to fall back on. I think it is an issue over here in League, that they don’t impress that upon the young kids as much – I have friends in Union who all have degrees and League just isn’t the same, so it is an area we need to look at and help them for life after rugby, because a lot of them only play professionally for a year, if that".
"I think back home [compared to the UK], it was mandatory that you had to study if you were still playing at the under-20 level. You had to meet certain [academic] criteria and study certain courses. So they need to have some criteria set when they are young, and maybe get some older boys in who have lost everything and are now working a 9 to 5, to impress upon them the importance of managing money and a life after rugby because it could all end next week".
Rugby League in the UK is still a sport somewhat on the fringes, particularly in the south of the country, was that a shock when you moved to London?
"In London there is no coverage of rugby league, you might get a little in the Metro about some northern teams [laughs], but there is a lot of potential for growth here & it just comes down to running the game like a business. Rugby Union have got it right and League could follow".
Although not one of the top 3 sports in the UK, it still manages to garner some big headlines, particularly when a club like Bradford Bulls goes into liquidation. What are your thoughts on that saga?
"It’s been coming for a while, Bradford have been broke for years and everyone’s known about it. If the RFL can see what’s going on they need to step in; the clubs need to open up their books to the RFL, and they can get involved in terms of guidance, and bringing in mentors to show the club how to be sustainable…. I do see a lot more clubs going down if nothing changes".
Turning the conversation back to your time in London, where you have been playing for a year already, walk us though how you are finding it here & where you think the club will head in 2017?
"Yeah I like it here, I’m getting on in age now, I’m 30 this year, so in rugby terms I’m pretty old [laughs], so I’m just trying to keep morale up, and keep training. [Promotion] is the goal for us".
Finally, before we have to let you get back into the studio, concussion is a hot topic in rugby circles at the moment...
"I’ve never taken a knock, I’ve been very lucky; one of my mates retired last year as he’s had enough and we’re the same age – he’d just taken too many head knocks. But that’s the game, it get blown up in the media, but these boys are paid a lot of money to do these things & they know the risks".