By Brian Lowe
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that we previewed the start of the 2019 USA Rugby League (USARL) domestic season, yet suddenly this weekend we’re heading into the first round of the playoffs.
What’s most interesting about this year’s postseason stateside is that there are several teams that will be making either their very first appearance or will be competing for the first time in a while.
Starting with the North Conference, last year’s Grand Finalists the Brooklyn Kings go into the finals series with an unbeaten 8-0 record, just as they did a year ago. And just as was the case 12 months ago, the Kings have by far and away the best points differential in the conference (+316).
The #1 seeds will have homefield advantage in the opening round and look to be very hard to beat.
A resurgent Boston 13s are back in the postseason after some less than satisfactory seasons by their own standards and will be looking to build on their solid 6-2 record in 2019. The #2 seeds clinched their only national championship to date in 2015. The only other time they got to the championship game was in 2012, when they lost to the Jacksonville Axemen.
The two other teams in the North that have qualified for the playoffs are the #3 seed Delaware Black Foxes and #4 Northern Virginia (NOVA) Eagles. It has been some time since either has emerged from the regular season and both will have high hopes of extending their improved performances in 2019, although both have tough asks.
Delaware will be away to Boston and while co-founder Bjorn Haglid continued his involvement with the club this season, he had to step away from his coaching duties to fulfill other responsibilities. He was ably replaced by Ian Ferguson, and as such, the Black Foxes will give themselves every chance of success.
NOVA will be on the road to tackle Brooklyn and that will be a very tall order for the Virginians.
In the South Conference, again reigning national champions Jacksonville is the team to beat. Although they have had a disrupted regular season due to forfeits and cancellations, the Axemen have been unstoppable so far in 2019 and boast the best points differential in the USARL (+342).
They were given their sternest test by the Tampa Mayhem in the regular season finale before going on to post another win to remain undefeated so far. The last time they lost a game was in July 2017.
As the #1 seed in the South, they will host the #4 seed Southwest Florida Copperheads on Saturday night. This will be the Copperheads’ playoffs debut having been established just last year. Led by founder and CEO Curtis Goddard, they have been the steady improvers of the last two seasons and will be aiming to spring an unlikely upset.
Elsewhere, the #2 seed Mayhem will be at home to #3 seed and newbies Lakeland Renegades in a game that, on paper at least, shapes up as a potentially competitive matchup. In their inaugural season, the Renegades have posted one win thus far, but they have played better than their record would suggest.
As we reported exclusively last week, the Atlanta Rhinos have withdrawn from this postseason.
They actually finished third in the South’s standings but have pulled out following a disappointing season during which they struggled to field full strength teams, particularly for away games.