The American National Rugby League has crowned a new champion. The Jacksonville Axemen are top dogs after downing New Haven Warriors 34-14 in the 2010 Grand Final in Philadelphia.
It is the Axemen’s first national title in the competition’s 13 year history and they had to come from behind to win it.
Trailing 14-10 at halftime, a golden third quarter turned out to be the difference as Jacksonville’s playmaker Brent Shorten scored a hat-trick of tries to turn the game on its head.
“We said at half time, if we can control the ball and don’t give them a sniff we’re going to win this thing and I think it’s a credit to our fitness and the heat in Jacksonville that really got us over the line at the end, it was a great effort from the guys,” he said.
The Axemen stand off was named MVP for his all around performance, but he was well supported by the likes of Luke Gray, Adrian Grayson, Matt Clark and Matt Thornton, who all turned in massive games.
New Haven scored first in the 10th minute when skipper Siose Muliumu finished off a raid down the flank that came against the run of play. Jacksonville had been working in the Warriors’ end of the field, but a couple of dropped balls and a lapse in concentration saw New Haven mount a counter attack that resulted in the try.
Roy Leoni’s conversion made it 6-0 and that’s how the first quarter ended. Warriors pivot Damien O’Malveney increased the margin to 10-0 with a try early in the second quarter that resulted from sustained New Haven pressure.
With Warriors looking comfortable, Jacksonville finally got on the board in the 28th minute when full back Kenny Britt found himself on the end of a series of passes that sent him into the try zone and with Shorten’s extras making it 10-6.
However, New Haven, who dominated the majority of play in the first half, stretched the lead to 14-6 in the 31st minute when Muliumu scored his second try in the corner, again following some excellent lead up work by centre Derrick Roma and Blair Wards, who constantly took the ball up and gained valuable metres every time.
Just on half time, Jacksonville centre Zach Matta edged his team closer with a try out wide that was the culmination of a midfield break by Grayson, set up by a clever chip ahead by Shorten.
The third quarter was the Shorten show.
The man from Helensburg, near Sydney, scored 18 unanswered points on his own to give Jacksonville what turned out to be an unassailable 28-14 lead going into the final quarter.
“It was a game of two halves,” said New Haven’s Muliumu. “We played the first well and in the second we fell asleep and the Axemen capitalized on our lacklustre efforts. We finished strong in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t good enough, they were too far ahead to catch up.”
The final 20 minutes went back and forth and the Warriors had several scoring opportunities only to squander possession when they looked to be on their way to the try zone.
Fittingly perhaps, it was Jacksonville co-founder and coach Darryl ‘Spinner’ Howland who put the final nail in the Warriors’ coffin when he scored the last try of the game in the 78th minute. And for good measure, he then converted his own try to close out the scoring.
“We knew they were going to be as tough as nails for 20 minutes and then the next 20 we’d sort of match them up. We knew our fitness would get us over,” Howland commented. “It’s unbelievable.”
The crowd of 1300 was treated to a spectacle that was very much worthy of a Grand Final.
“Certainly, it was successful in a number of ways,” said AMNRL president David Niu. “We were successful on the field – it was good football. Successful off the field – great crowd, great corporate event and it was exciting for everybody.”