venue: Hodges Field, Jacksonville
14th November 2009
Full Match Report
ATLANTIC CUP 2009
Two tries in five minutes just after the hour mark saw the Tomahawks take the inaugural ‘Hotels of Jacksonville.com’ Atlantic Cup, defeating Jamaica, to the delight of a rapturous crowd. The 2,000 in attendance were treated to a terrific tussle, with ‘reggae rugby’ having the upper hand early on before the home favourites stormed to victory.
The hosts were largely indebted to the man they call ‘Seabiscuit’, Connecticut Wildcats winger Nate Smith, whose nickname is derived from the legendary US thoroughbred race horse. He put in a stellar, man of the match performance, scoring two long-range, momentum-turning tries and kicking five goals for a personal 18-point haul.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time” said an elated Smith. “I came up to make a tackle and twice found the ball in the air. It was an awesome day for US Rugby League, we knew the Jamaicans had some ball players so we had to stick to our game plan in the middle of the field, which we did really well.”
Jamaica’s insistence on sticking to their maverick principles in their first international contributed to a spectacular, thrilling match that had the Jacksonville spectators repeatedly on their feet, but ultimately proved their undoing as they, literally, threw the game away. Notwithstanding Smith’s two interception tries, centre Keikeokalani Misipeka’s 67th minute game breaker came after the massive New Haven Warriors centre plucked Jamaica captain Jamaine Wray’s chip out of the Florida air before sprinting away to score
Up until that point it had been an end to end clash, with the scores brought back to parity three times as neither side was able to dominate. Jamaica, with ten players from English clubs, took control early, prompted by the excellent Wray. The nuggety Keighley Cougars hooker dominated the ruck and pinned the Tomahawks back with an excellent tactical kicking game.
Two early scoring opportunities were squandered before Wray slotted over a penalty and Jamaica extended their lead when stand off Danny Thomas sent in winger Wayne Rettie. Jamaican indiscipline and the introduction of local favourite Taco Pope proved to be the USA’s route back into the game.
The barnstorming Jacksonville Axemen back rower thundered into the Jamaican defence, lifting his team-mates and the crowd, with the hosts finally able to mount its first serious attack in the 25th minute. The visitors held firm but after they relieved their lines, Michael Brown’s flat ball was intercepted by Smith to tie up the contest.
Another big Taco Pope break on the Tomahawks’ subsequent possession set up the position from which Kei Misipeka used his enormous frame to bustle over. Two minutes before half time, Smith turned from hero to villain when he fumbled a speculative Jamaican clearance kick, allowing Rettie to scoop up the ball and race 50 metres to score, Thomas’s conversion putting the Caribbean outfit 12-10 ahead at the interval.
Early USA pressure put them back in front three minutes after the re-start. After completing only six of 18 first half possessions they enjoyed three consecutive sets at the start of the second period, New York Knights’ forward Michael Cartwright crossing as a result. Three minutes later Smith repeated his earlier effort to give the home side a 22-12 lead but the effervescent Jamaicans, with Harlequins utility Lamont Bryan to the fore, hit back decisively.
The excellent Wray sliced through on 53 minutes, then Hunslet centre Michael Brown crashed over from close range out to even it up at 22-22. That was as close as Jamaica got as the Tomahawks launched a furious assault which saw Keikeokalani Misipeka complete a memorable hat trick and Derrick Roma garnish the win with a drop goal two minutes from time. A number of Jamaican team were in tears at the final whistle, having done their nation proud, with coach Dean Thomas particularly emotional.
“It was a tremendous match and an outstanding advert for rugby league” he said. “The show that these two nations put on has been one of the best feelings of my life. We controlled large aspects of the game but let them back into it but I’m immensely proud, for 80 minutes we never stopped working for each other. It means so much to me to see all these Jamaicans from different backgrounds pulling together.”
AMNRL President and Tomahawks coach David Niu was equally effusive about the encounter. “I knew we were in a battle” he commented. “For a moment in the first half I thought we’d lost it but we dug in and that tells me something about the group of players. The revival began with our left side starting to evolve and then we competed as a team. This game represents an opportunity for the sport in the region. We won this arm wrestle but we could just as easily have lost it.”
Dwain Nelson, Wayne Rettie, Michael Brown, Joe Brown, Damon Gayle, Danny Thomas, Roy Calvert, Steve Pryce, Jermaine Wray, Jode Sheriffe, Brian Hutchinson, Duain Scott, Lamont Bryan. Subs: Claude Yen, Jason MacFarlane, Orien Smith, Carlye Burgher