By Brian Lowe in the United States, Date: 19/11/15
The 2017 Rugby League World Cup Americas Region Qualifying series is just about upon us and preparations are on in earnest for the three countries that will be participating.
The USA, Canada and Jamaica have all named their train-on squads. Combinations and game plans are being figured out and a lot of strategizing is going on within the respective camps ahead of this crucial playoff series.
The USA Hawks have picked a 22-man squad that features seven overseas-based players, five of whom featured in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup campaign, however, unlike under the previous governing body, this time none of the eligible NRL players, and there are a few, has been drafted into the squad.
The USARL has opted to go with mostly domestic players, bolstered by compatriots from second tier competitions in Australia and England.
One of the most accomplished of the USA’s RLWC veterans is Mark Offerdahl. At 28, the talented 6’ 220 lbs backrower recently inked a deal with the London Broncos, who compete in the Kingstone Press Championship in the UK.
Offerdahl has previously had stints in the Intrust Super Cup in Queensland (Australia) and in France with Carcassonne in the Elite 1 League. He qualifies for selection through family lineage – his grandfather was born in the US and his father grew up here.
So how does he think the new look Hawks stack up against their predecessors the Tomahawks?
“It is a completely different team than the 2013 team,” Offerdahl tells RugbyLeaguePlanet. “From what I have seen, the American boys are more than up for the challenge. I’ve played with and against a few of them and rate them highly!
“Will be a very hard test and not as easy as the 2011 qualifiers that’s for sure.”
It’s by no means a stretch to say there are a lot of new faces on the American roster. In fact, there is a veritable truckload of them, but of the 15 homegrown players on the squad, only a handful have previous national team experience.
What that speaks to is the USARL’s stated selection policy of giving guys who play in its domestic competition a crack at international football, while waiving consideration of players who ply their trade at the highest levels of club rugby league (NRL and Super League).
We’ll know soon enough if that’s a good move or not.
Turning our attention to the opposition, Canada has selected a 26-man squad and it too has opted to enhance its roster by including five overseas players, four of whom play in feeder competitions in Australia, the other in the UK.
Looking over their squad perhaps the best known name is that of Jamie Lester, the man who filled the role of interim head coach during this fall’s Colonial Cup series with the US.
He has been part of the Wolverines, in one form or another, since captaining the side in their re-emergence in 2010. Other than Lester, Louis Robinson would have the most pedigree on the Canadian team.
Robinson plays for the London Skolars, who compete in the Kingstone Press League 1, a tier beneath the Kingstone Press Championship.
Like the Americans, the Canadians have gone with a mostly domestic-based squad and their selection policy has already paid dividends with the Wolverines sweeping the Hawks in the Colonial Cup series.
And so to Jamaica, what to make of the Reggae Warriors?
There are a dozen UK-based players on their 53-man train-on squad, although one would imagine that they will trim that number by half within the next week.
Among the better known players are Alex Brown and Wayne Rettie, who play for the Batley Bulldogs in the Kingstone Press Championship.
A handful of the Jamaicans have been on the national team for a while. Rettie was in the side that lost to the then USA Tomahawks in the inaugural Atlantic Cup match back in 2009, as were several of his current teammates including Brian Hutchinson, Jode Sheriffe, Orien Smith, Joseph Brown and Lamont Bryan.
Problem for the Jamaicans though, and they freely admit it, is that they don’t play enough international matches. Including that 2009 fixture, they’ve played a total of ten games and are 2-8 in that time. They beat Canada in 2010 and South Africa in 2011 and that’s it.
So now that we have had a chance to check out the respective squads and run the slide rule over them as it were (yeah, I know, that’s really old school terminology) here’s our updated take on likely outcomes.
We are going to stick with our initial prediction of a US win against Jamaica in Game 1 for a couple of reasons. One; the Hawks have played a couple of games recently so they will be more match ready while their opponents are coming off a domestic season, and Two; because the USARL has picked some experienced players from overseas.
That’s a big deal. Those five guys in particular have been to the World Cup before, they were part of the USA’s successful Qualifying series in 2011 and they have been playing a good standard of football in solid leagues since then. Jamaica doesn’t have that experience.
We are also sticking with a first-up win to Canada. The Wolverines are on a roll. They are 4-2 in the last 12 months, including three straight wins against the US.
They have picked a solid squad and one that is arguably stronger than that which took care of business in the Colonial Cup. Conversely, Jamaica hasn’t played a game since July 2014, their only match last year, so they will be rusty. Therefore, Game 2 goes to the Canadians.
That makes Game 3 a winner-takes-all matchup between the two North American rivals and that means it shapes up as a barnburner.
The Hawks will be on home soil, they will be bolstered by their overseas guys and they will be hell bent on snapping their three-game skid. On top of that, they will be facing their archrivals in the biggest game with the most on the line ever played in North America.
But will all that be enough for the US to get ‘er done and advance to the 2017 World Cup?
On form, Canada should start favorite, but home field advantage counts for something and in clutch games like this one it could be the deciding factor.
Too close to call, maybe Canada, but there won’t be much in it.
2017 World Cup Qualifiers – Americas Region Schedule:
Game 1 – December 4, 2015 USA v Jamaica (7pm Jacksonville, FL)
Game 2 – December 8, 2015 Canada v Jamaica (7pm DeLand, FL)
Game 3 – December 12, 2015 USA v Canada (3pm Jacksonville, FL)