By Brian Lowe, Date: 31/8/2015
The USA Rugby League has crowned a new first-time champion.
The Boston 13s have put on a clinical display to clinch their first ever national title with a 44-12 victory over the Atlanta Rhinos in the USARL Championship Final V in Jacksonville, FL.
The team from beantown got on the board first, and early, and was never headed.
The Rhinos’ defense was put under intense pressure in the opening stanza and it cracked when Boston crossed for the game’s first try within five minutes of kickoff. It resulted from sustained pressure from close range.
Ten minutes in and the match officials were forced to call a 20-minute rain delay because of lightning strikes around the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium. The stormy conditions were the effects of Hurricane Erika, which had earlier crashed into the Caribbean.
When play resumed, ball handling was made extra difficult because of the slippery conditions.
In the early going, Atlanta’s collegiate rugby union convert Terrance Williams (Georgia Southern University) was a big factor, particularly with his hit-ups, and proved to be quite a handful for the 13s’ defenders.
However, around the 20 minute mark, and against the run of play, Boston went in again following a midfield line break by Trevor McKenzie, who dished a sweet inside offload to Kane Bentley, who made it 8-0. Bentley would go on to notch a hat-trick of tries before the night was done.
The ensuing stage of the game was a bit sloppy on both sides of the ball, mainly because of the rainy conditions, but in the 27th minute the Rhinos struck when Qami Little, one of the fastest men in American rugby league, intercepted a pass near his own tryline and scorched down the sideline for a spectacular, long-range try. The conversion by Joe Cowley was good and Atlanta was in touch, trailing 8-6.
But that would be as close as the team from the Peachtree State would get as Boston, which had stumbled at the final hurdle back in 2012, was clearly on a mission. Three more unanswered tries inside the closing 10 minutes of the half saw the 13s take a useful 26-6 lead into the main break.
Former Redcliffe Dolphins Intrust Super Cup (QRL) player Liam Georgetown started to put his stamp on proceedings by converting two of those tries, one by Urban Iyo, before putting the pedal to the metal and crossing the line himself and then adding the extras.
“Credit to Boston,” said Atlanta head coach Bob Taylor. “Solid side.”
The Rhinos came out after the break and threw the ball around figuring they needed to create some much-needed opportunities and that tactic paid off almost immediately with a converted try to narrow the gap to 14 points.
Through the next phase of the match, unforced errors by both teams saw the ball coughed up in scoring positions, but it was Boston that eventually cashed in on a mistake when an errant Atlanta pass was swooped on by Craig MacKenzie, who then beat a couple of tacklers along the touchline to take it in for another score. Georgetown converted and the 13s were in control at 32-12 inside the last quarter of the contest.
At that point, the Atlanta side started to throw caution to the wind in an effort to stay in touch, but again it was the North Conference champions who reaped the rewards when one of their best on the night, Marcos Flegmann, was on the end of a short, inside pass to score untouched under the posts. Georgetown kicked the extras for the fifth time.
To make matters worse for the Rhinos, they had to see out the rest of the game a man down when Max Pierce was sent off for back chatting the referee after Boston was awarded a late penalty. The 13s then capped off their winning performance when Lawrence Crilley tore through Atlanta’s tiring defense for another converted try and the final scoreline of 44-12.
“It feels pretty surreal and I don’t think it has sunk in yet!” said Boston head coach Robin Peers about the club’s big win. “We were confident going into the game and on average we had only conceded 12 points per game, so letting in just 12 in the Grand Final doesn’t surprise me.
“We also have been pretty potent on offense and kept things going in that respect too.”
Peers attributes the W to hard work.
“Dustin Cooper and I have been working very hard to build this club since we took the reins fully in 2013. Owner Mik Shammas put in a huge effort before that,” he said. “We’ve been building the squad since then and this season we are reaping the rewards for all of the hours we have put in, both on and off the field.
“The team has also put in a big effort this year. The buy-in has been great and they really have to compete with each other for their roster spots each week.”
One of the main take-aways from the game was the experience, or lack thereof, on display.
“Inexperience showed up,” commented Atlanta’s Coach Taylor. “Part of it is just the inexperience factor. Sometimes you over psyche yourself up and that’s what we did.
“We’re disappointed, but we’ve only been in the League for two years. I told the players they just need to look back and see what they’ve accomplished.”
Coach Peers echoed those sentiments.
“I would say inexperience played a part in it and there is that old saying that you have to lose a Final before you can win one,” he added. “We lost the 2012 Final and it showed us where we needed to get to to become the champions.
“The scary thing about Atlanta is that they are only in their second year of operations. They will be a daunting proposition in a year or two if they keep going at their current rate of development.”
In the curtain raiser, the South posted a 34-20 win against the North in the USARL All-Stars game.