By Brian Lowe, Date: 23/8/18 (Photo: Allene Rachal)
It all comes down to one game – this weekend’s USA Rugby League (USARL) national championship title decider.
The season will be on the line for the Jacksonville Axemen and Brooklyn Kings when they square off in the championship game on Saturday, and on paper at least, it looks to be an even money bet with both teams going into it undefeated in 2018.
Brooklyn swept aside all comers during the regular season in the North Conference and then went on to win the conference championship game.
Going into the postseason, the Kings racked up a very healthy +188 points differential – no other team in the conference got anywhere that mark.
And the story is much the same in the South, where the Axemen have been virtually unstoppable so far this season.
They too topped the standings in their conference compiling a league-best +234 points differential along the way, before dominating the opposition in their playoff games.
Of the two championship contenders, the Axemen are the more experienced having been there and done that. Indeed, they have appeared in five national championship games to date, winning two of them in 2010 and 2012.
Their first championship came when they were still part of the American National Rugby League (AMNRL), while their second title came in just the second year of the USARL.
Jacksonville has experienced a purple patch in recent seasons making it back to the national championship game in 2013, 2014 and 2016, although they finished just short each time.
The Axemen’s roster boasts some very effective offensive players, most notably their goalkicking hooker Lachlan Bristow, who has been leading the way by scoring tries and booting conversions week in and week out.
Wingers David Washington and Tyler McClain have also been piling up the tries in 2018, while backrower Jed Pearce has been steamrolling would-be tacklers all season long.
Captain Jon Purnell has been making hard yards up the middle, and prop Kevin Wathen, halfback Montana Northcroft and center Kyle Grinold have all played major roles in the team’s overall success.
On the flipside, Brooklyn too have their share of attack weapons, particularly left center Brandon Anderson, who has put together a pretty impressive highlight reel of tries.
He has been aided by fullback Seimou Smith, right center Jay Robinson, hooker Jerome Easthope and backrower Nick Briggs, while captain and hooker Garet Shepherdson has been leading from the front.
The club, which was formed in 2014, has been steadily building over the last five years to a point where it is now a legitimate challenger for the USARL title.
So, everything is primed for what should be an exciting and very competitive national championship game to determine the 2018 USARL champions.
The match will be played at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville this Saturday (August 25) and will be live streamed on the Facebook page of iknowjax.com