By Brian Lowe, Date: 14/1/16
The USA Hawks, fresh off their Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers success, are gearing up to face off against the English Super League champion Leeds Rhinos in an exhibition game Sunday in Jacksonville, Florida.
In an ironic twist, the US will be up against Leeds head coach Brian McDermott, the man who guided them during the RLWCQ just a month ago.
The Hawks will be coached by Robin Peers, who steered the Boston 13s to their maiden USARL Championship last summer.
Peers will be assisted by fellow domestic-based coaches in Darryl ‘Spinner’ Howland (Jacksonville Axemen), Gary Walker (Central Florida Warriors) and Billy Neilson (Tampa Mayhem).
The team was picked by a five-man panel, which is the first time the Hawks have been selected in this fashion, and it’s believed that this process will become the norm from now on.
Seven players from the World Cup qualifying squad have been named on the roster for the Leeds match and from that squad Nick Newlin and CJ Cortalano have stepped up to take a lead on developing continuity in game planning alongside the coaches.
“We won’t have too much preparation time to be honest due to logistics and player travel,” Coach Peers tells RugbyLeaguePlanet.
“We’ll have Saturday and Sunday morning to get the guys up to speed. We’ll do this via a mixture of on-field practices plus classroom-based sessions. The boys will also be given some material via email in the lead up to the game so they are coming in with a knowledge of our basic strategies.
“Physically the boys have been training hard since the squad was announced. They have had Sean Rutgerson (USA Hawks strength & conditioning coach) setting them fitness programs and fitness goals to get them in good shape.”
Despite the fact that the match is an exhibition game with no major prize on the line, there is still a lot to play for on the part of both teams.
“The game is an exhibition game as there is no trophy or competition points up for grabs, but for the 20 guys that pull on the USA jersey, I expect that they’ll be treating it as they would any other game that they would pull on the Stars and Stripes jersey,” continued Peers.
“Some of the boys that were overlooked for the World Cup Qualifiers will be out to prove a point to the national team selectors! Similarly, the Leeds boys will be doing all that they can to put their name on the team sheet for the World Club Challenge versus Australian (NRL) champions North Queensland, which is just over a month away.”
And even though it is an exhibition game, there are some things the coach is expecting from his players.
“My expectations from the boys is that they do the basics well and that they play with good intensity and they represent the Rugby League talent that we have here in the USA,” added Peers.
“I also hope that the game inspires the US players to go away from it and take their game to a new level and help raise the standards of Rugby League across the USARL.”
USA Hawks squad:
David Aguilar | Wing (Jacksonville Axemen)
Bryant Alexander | Center (North Virginia Eagles)
Roderigus Ceasar | Wing (Central Florida Warriors)
Shaniyat Chowdhury | Fullback (Brooklyn Kings)
Abe Cohen | 2nd Row (New York Knights)
CJ Cortalano | Hooker (New York Knights)
Marcos Flegmann | Prop (Boston 13s)
Tyler Ierardi | Center (Boston 13s)
Urban Iyo | Wing (Boston 13s)
Andrew Kneisly | Prop (Philadelphia Fight)
Bart Longchamp | Prop (Central Florida Warriors)
Roman Lowery | Fullback (Philadelphia Fight)
Richard Mizell | Halfback (Central Florida Warriors)
Nick Newlin | Prop (Atlanta Rhinos)
Bryan Phelps | 2nd Row (Tampa Mayhem)
Jon Purnell | Lock (Jacksonville Axemen)
Zach Reichenbach | Prop (Philadelphia Fight)
Tristan Sylk | 2nd Row (Philadelphia Fight)
Mike Timpano | Wing (Philadelphia Fight)
Sterling Winn | Fullback (Central Florida Warriors)