Based on the level of experience in their squad, Jamaica start as potential favourites for the 2018 Americas Championship, which will also act as a qualifier for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England.
The University of North Florida, Jacksonville, will host two double-header rounds on 13th and 17th November 2018, and in the opening fixtures the Reggae Warriors take on the Canada, the winners facing either hosts USA or newcomers Chile.
But balancing emerging domestic players with those from the UK’s Super League, Championship and League 1 is a difficult task, as Jamaica found out in the 2015 qualifiers before the last World Cup held in 2017.
“Our journey has been a dynamic one. We have players from both sides of the water anxious to represent themselves and their families,” said Romeo Monteith, Rugby League European Federation Caribbean development manager and JRLA director of rugby.
“It is at times difficult to leave out many of the lads playing on concrete-like fields, building the sport where it matters, in the heart of Jamaican communities. But, this is the World Cup qualifiers, and it’s our semi-pro and professional players who give us the best chance of challenging for a finals spot.”
This is the third World Cup that the Warriors have attempted to get through to, after making their debut in Philadelphia in 2011 where they beat South Africa but lost to the USA. Last time, also in Jacksonville, a draw with Canada scuppered their ambitions, after a narrow loss to the host Hawks.
“Qualification would grow the game in Jamaica even further and all domestic participants would benefit both tangibly and intangibly,” added Monteith. “When Aaron Jones-Bishop came to Jamaica in 2017 and played alongside the domestic lads, it gave them a massive boost. There's just so much more to learn from the professional game skill-wise and, no doubt, this transfer of knowledge will again occur at these qualifiers.”
Monteith claimed: “There is a lot that the domestic players bring to the table as well in terms of heart, passion, culture and pride. We do have conflicts at times based on expectations, attitude and approach but, ultimately, we all do it for the love of Jamaica and the dream to do something bigger than ourselves.”
In the run up to the qualifiers, the expansion of the sport on the island is witnessed by the fifth season of the Jamaican second division competition kicking off this weekend. Eight teams will compete in two conferences for the 2018 season as expansion moves into the St Elizabeth parish for the first time.
In a unique supplier deal, all team outfits will be available for sale on-line through www.1908.store with all revenue going directly to development of the sport by the JRLA. As part of this initiative, Monteith is encouraging rugby league fans around the world to adopt a RLJD2 team and to contribute to the growth of the game directly through the purchase of their merchandise.
Competing in Group 1 are the Kingston-based teams of Duhaney Park Red Sharks, Kingston Central Hounds, Liguanea Dragons and expansion team Mona Pelicans, who have been formed around the strong collegiate rugby league scene of the University of West Indies.
In group 2, CMU Spartans return for a second season after an impressive run in the national Cup competition. They are joined by re-formed Portmore Eliminators and two new expansion teams, Cedar Grove Cyclones and St Bess Sledgehammers, meaning representation across all of South Jamaica.
Monteith commented: “We have been working hard over the past year to bring our new sides into play. I really hope the rest of the rugby league world jumps on board by adopting a D2 team, which can really help us to grow this expansion competition again. We are bringing the game to more Jamaicans than we have before and we hope to continue expanding into the future.”