By Brian Lowe, Date: 20/7/17
The USA Hawks aren’t feeling any added pressure as they prepare to tackle Jamaica in this weekend’s opening game of the 2017 Rugby League Americas Championship.
The Americans, who are set to host the Reggae Warriors in Jacksonville, FL, Saturday, go into the match as the reigning champions having won the inaugural series last year.
“No pressure for us,” says USA captain Nick Newlin. “It being only the second year of the Americas Championship, I think we are just excited to know that this will be an annual tournament going forward and will hopefully expand.
“We know Jamaica will come in with a stronger side than last year and Canada will always be tough, especially up in Toronto at Lamport Stadium.
“I think more of the pressure is on the Wolverines in fact, as they had leads in both games last year and we came away with tries to win it in the last minutes of each game.”
US selectors have named a squad that includes seven players who will make their debuts at the international level, along with six players who’ve represented the USA in the past.
Despite so many new faces on the roster, Newlin sees it as a strong squad.
“It’s a very good mix of experienced players and newcomers,” he says.
“We should have a very strong and athletic pack in the middle of the field and quite a bit of ball speed out wide with Junior Vaivai moving to his natural position of center, and John St John on the wing again.
“That’s what’s most exciting about the team when I look at it, the amount of athletic ability we have put together. Anyone can score from anywhere on the field at any time.”
Asked whether the high number of newbies will make the Americans change their game plan, the skipper doubts that will be necessary.
He says coach Sean Rutgerson has been focusing on sticking to the approach formulated by Hawks Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) head coach Brian McDermott.
Newlin says the players have been exposed to the way ‘Mac’ wants them to play during the domestic season and the guys who were on the team for the RLWC Qualifiers in 2015 will help Rutgerson implement that style.
Being a World Cup year, players are also acutely aware that they are playing for spots in the national team that will be competing at the game’s showpiece in Australasia.
“We understand that the USA needs to not only have a successful World Cup, but a successful international season leading up to that, and that’s on the shoulders of the domestic players here in the States” continues Newlin.
“We know that the squad of 23 will have a good handful of heritage players, so every chance that us domestic USA guys get to show the coaches we are deserving of being included on the squad is huge for us.
“Myself and some of the other guys have been advocating a much stronger presence of USARL players in the squad compared to 2013 and we think there are eight to 12 of us deserving of the opportunity to represent our country.
“This is the first step at making that a reality.
“We know we must perform, show we are talented, fit and willing to put in the extra effort to make the RLWC squad contain as many domestic players as possible to continue to grow the game here in the USA.”
Rugby League Americas Championship schedule
USA v Jamaica – Jacksonville, FL (July 22, 2017)
Jamaica v Canada – Kingston, Jamaica (August 26, 2017)
Canada v USA – Toronto, ON (September 16, 2017)