World Cup qualifiers to grow rugby league in Jamaica

Jamaica start as potential favourites for the Americas Championship and will look to use the World Cup qualifiers to grow the sport on the island.

The 2018 Americas Championship this autumn 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 November 13 and 17, 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.

“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.

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