By Brian Lowe, Date: 7/8/18 (Photo Credit: Karl Schweinfurth)
The USA Rugby League national clubs competition has reached the closing stages of the 2018 season with the conference finals set for this coming weekend.
The North Conference final will be an-all New York affair with the #1 seeded Brooklyn Kings hosting the #3 seed White Plains Wombats, while the South Conference title game will see #1 seed Jacksonville Axemen at home to the #2 seeded Atlanta Rhinos.
This past weekend saw each conference hosting their respective semifinals and while the North’s matchups were close, that wasn’t the case in the South.
In the North, the Kings dispatched the New York Knights 20-8 in one semi before the Wombats edged the Philadelphia Fight 16-14 in the second game.
Brooklyn opened their match by completing their first five sets to take a 10-0 lead before the Knights found their rhythm. The Kings extended the margin to 14-4 by halftime and eventually ground out a four tries to two victory.
“It always seems to be close against the Knights,” said Brooklyn head coach Brent Richardson.
The second semifinal played in Philadelphia was reminiscent of the previous contest between the Fight and White Plains earlier in the season.
It was an arm wrestle from the start with both teams scoring three tries apiece.
“It was an ugly game,” said Fight player/coach Rich Henson. “Very physical but ugly.”
Conversely, the South’s semifinals were blowouts with Atlanta routing the Tampa Mayhem 68-10 in the early game and the Axemen shutting out the Southwest Florida Copperheads 88-0 in the late match.
The Rhinos kept the scoreboard ticking over at a rapid rate of knots to build what turned out to be an unassailable 46-6 lead at the half.
The defending national champions went on with the job in the second forty to punch their ticket to the conference final.
“We made the trip up to Atlanta missing a lot of our key starters, but still felt like we could execute our game plan and come out on top,” said Tampa Owner/CEO Billy Neilson.
In the second semi in Jacksonville, the Axemen were on a mission and scored at better than a point a minute.
Their completion rate was very high and that allowed them to mount continued pressure which saw them shoot out to a 50-0 lead by halftime.
In all, the Axemen scored 16 tries but even so, head coach Sean Rutgerson isn’t taking anything for granted as they prepare for the Rhinos.
“We really need to train hard because they’ve been there before. The only advantage we’ve got is we’re playing at home.”
Saturday’s conference final winners will move on to the national championship game to be played on Saturday, August 25.
The USARL Grand Final will be hosted by the South’s champions.