By Brian Lowe, (Photo Credit) The US Association of Rugby League LLC (USARL) domestic club season is only a few weeks old, but already it has been marred by a series of unforeseen bumps in the road, particularly in the South Conference.
There have been forfeits, postponements and cancellations galore and we are only at about the halfway point of the 2019 regular season.
The hardest hit team has been the defending national champion Jacksonville Axemen. The 2018 champs haven’t played a game since way back on June 15 when they beat the Atlanta Rhinos on the road.
The week after that, Jacksonville had a bye, then their scheduled home game against the Southwest Florida Copperheads a week later was cancelled when the Copperheads forfeited.
The Copperheads, who are in just their second year of competition, did have a valid excuse, however, as CEO Curtis Goddard told RugbyLeaguePlanet the southwestern part of Florida around Fort Myers was under a shelter-in-place order that Friday night because of severe weather and tornado warnings which derailed their travel plans to northeastern Florida.
As a result, the Axemen split their squad in two and played a nines scrimmage on the Saturday as head coach Sean Rutgerson wanted his players to at least get in some kind of game time, while team co-owner and general manager Drew Slover believed the paying fans who turned up should’ve got something for their money.
The following week, Jacksonville was scheduled to play an away game in Lakeland, Florida, home of the Conference’s new team the Renegades. The Axemen’s squad made the two-hour trip down Interstate 4 only to find that the start of the game was delayed because of lightning strikes.
The severe weather continued throughout the evening and eventually the match was called off.
Following their washed-out road trip that week, the Axemen had another bye this past weekend.
The forfeits and postponements didn’t end there though, as this past weekend former national champions the Rhinos were forced to scrap their away game against the Copperheads.
According to Atlanta’s captain Nick Newlin, as of Friday afternoon the club didn’t have enough players to field a team, so they forfeited.
Earlier in the season, the Rhinos’ home game against the Copperheads was washed out due to bad weather in Atlanta making the ground unplayable. It was officially recorded by USARL as a 0-0 result. That decision was made after the Copperheads team had made the trip to the Peachtree State, the longest road trip in the South Conference.
In the case of a forfeit, the team that didn’t cancel is awarded two competition points in lieu, while the team that forfeited loses two points in the standings.
USARL LLC chairman Danny Hanson says in past seasons, cancelled games were usually made up on open dates, but this year things are a little different.
“As this year the South has an odd number of teams (five) and they are now getting in eight matches over the period, there is no room in the schedule for make-up matches,” he says.
“We’ve decided to not make them up and let the standings be as they are in determining playoff seedings.”
Another hit that clubs take from forfeited or cancelled games is financial. The home team loses money and it can amount to thousands of dollars, sums that can be crucial in terms of a club’s profit and loss bottom line at the end of a season.
“We haven’t cancelled a game in 14 years,” said the Axemen’s co-owner Drew Slover. “We are dedicated to our fans and sponsors. The Axemen will always show up, whether our opponents do or not.”