Jamaica’s director of rugby Romeo Monteith has opened up on just how difficult it has been to get Jamaica on the rugby league map.
Jamaica’s Reggae Warriors became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the Rugby League World Cup when they defeated USA 16-10 in Jacksonville last weekend.
JRLA director of rugby Monteith, back in his native Kingston, has been there from the start, part of the founding board in 2004 and subsequently the RLEF development officer for the region, and is just beginning to appreciate the implications of his unstinting work.
“It is incredible to think that Jamaica is going to be in front of millions of people in 2021,” Monteith says.
“It means a great deal for all the people who have sacrificed so much and all the boys who funded their own way to represent their country and families at the qualifiers; all of us who were laughed at and ridiculed and told we were wasting our time.
“There has been so many sacrifices over the years. I’ve had very little social life for almost a decade or interest outside rugby league, to be honest, I’ve just been driven to achieve objective after objective and give as many Jamaicans as possible the chance to experience this wonderful sport.
“I’ve not been able to play much either, I’ve been stuck refereeing, coaching and administrating even when I was in my prime – and I do love giving a good bump off or shoulder charge, when they were legal!” he laughs.
“Many times I’ve contemplated stopping,” Monteith continues.
“Family is so important and sometimes when the sport you love threatens to tear you apart from the people you love… it becomes tough. It’s also been so hard when we haven’t got a field in Jamaica to play on, seeing kids I care about bruise and break bones, kids I’ve trained and am responsible for.
“Traveling has given me so much perspective. Seeing the game played in the UK or Toronto or Jacksonville with hundreds or thousands of passionate fans has kept me hopeful.”
Monteith is already thinking about possible legacy from his nation achieving their qualification dream at the third attempt, having missed out to the USA in 2013 and 2017.
“I hope it’s a home for Jamaica Rugby League. We just want a field with a changing room and club house, where there is no one to chase us away and the kids can play safely,” he acknowledges.
“I hope our government, corporate Jamaica, everyone on the island and the millions in the diaspora give support and respect to this team and sport, because it’s great for building character in young men and women. I think Jamaica will be everyone’s second favourite team.”
Monteith also has on-field plans for the build-up to 2021.
He says: “We need annual games against World Cup-bound teams to improve, and we need to build the America’s Championship up to raise the profile of the game in the region.
“Hopefully, other Caribbean islands will take note and have more than passing interest in the sport.”
He adds a fitting tribute. “Allow me to pay homage to Paul Morris, who we consider the father of Jamaica rugby league. He was director of rugby from the start in 2004 to his death in 2009. Along with his wife Sue, they laid a solid foundation for us and trained us in administrative techniques.
“Keith Jackson and William Masterton must be mentioned too, they financed the sport at the very beginning when everyone around us was laughing, telling us Jamaicans don’t play rugby league. Hopefully, those who did will now celebrate with us.”
“These have been such wonderful displays by Jamaica in a sport in which we have not been traditionally strong,” said the nation’s sports minister Olivia Grange, in a message to the team on their success in becoming the eleventh nation of sixteen to be confirmed for the 2021 tournament in England.
“Not just the players, but the coach, the manager and all others around the team deserve our highest regard and as the minister of sport it is my great pleasure to convey those sentiments to them as we laud the magnificent performance that has once again created history for Jamaica.”