By Brian Lowe, Date: 14/8/17
The Atlanta Rhinos will square off against the New York Knights in the 2017 USA Rugby League (USARL) championship game.
Both teams posted convincing wins Saturday in their respective conference finals.
The South championship got things underway on conference final day with the much-fancied and unbeaten Atlanta Rhinos taking on the upstart Tampa Mayhem.
The Rhinos prevailed 32-24 at home, but not before the Mayhem, true to their name, caused plenty of headaches for the home team.
Atlanta trailed until part way through the second half and were forced to mount a mighty surge to clinch a six tries to four victory in what turned out to be a very competitive title game.
“We kind of hurt ourselves in the first half and had to play off the back foot,” said Atlanta captain Nick Newlin. “Almost all the first half we played defense.”
The Mayhem enjoyed most of the running in the first stanza with their unrelenting pressure resulting in them taking an 18-12 lead into the main break.
“It was a bit somber in the sheds at halftime, but our coach Jordan Smedley picked the boys up and we went on with it in the second half,” added Newlin.
Among the Rhinos’ try-scorers were Terence Williams, Corey Patton Jr, John Paul Jr and Tomu Osborne, while Joe Cowley went 4/6 on conversions.
Later Saturday evening, it was the turn of the North Conference to stage their final with the high-flying New York Knights facing off against the Brooklyn Kings in New York City.
The Knights, who previously won national titles in the days of the former American National Rugby League (AMNRL), were on a mission from the get go and eventually ran away with it 46-24.
It was a very physical contest with tempers fraying at various points of proceedings.
Two Knights players were knocked unconscious in heavy hits, first Mitch Winters and then a second player just before halftime, however, New York stayed in control to lead 22-6 at the intermission.
“I think we started in the best possible way,” said coach Guillaume Cieutat. “We didn’t panic. We were very patient with the ball and our decisions on the sixth tackle were good.
“Our boys really stuck to the game plan. We didn’t try to score on every possession and we kept heading in the right direction.”
A Brooklyn player was red-carded in the second half and having to play a man down, coupled with an option to kick early in their tackle counts that backfired, the Kings eventually succumbed to the Knights’ constant pressure.
But according to the coach, New York also had a less than satisfactory second forty.
“The second half was very bad for us completing our sets,” continued Cieutat.
Knights co-captain Alex Foster, who made a difference at critical times of the game, was rewarded for his stellar efforts by being named Man-of-the-Match.
The USARL championship final will be played on Saturday, August 26, at Atlanta’s Life University which will be hosting its first rugby league match in quite some time.
“We wanted to host the national championship game at a venue befitting of the occasion and there’s no better place in Atlanta,” concluded Rhinos skipper Newlin.