Photo Credit: Allene Rachal
The Jacksonville Axemen have won the 2022 USA Rugby League (USARL) championship with a 36-12 victory over the Tampa Mayhem in Jacksonville, Florida.
The match doubled up as the South Conference championship and USARL national championship.
It is the Axemen’s fourth national title. Their previous titles were won in 2010, 2012 and 2018.
Playing at home in front of their usual boisterous fans at the University of North Florida on Saturday night, the Axemen dominated proceedings from start to finish and never really looked in any doubt.
They led 16-8 at halftime behind tries by fullback James Williams, who scored a pair, and forward Josh Westerland, who came in off the interchange bench. Five-eighth Luke Findlay converted two of the tries.
Williams opened the second half with his third try of the day, before lock Steven Hill dotted down for another. Findlay added the extras on both of them.
In the final quarter, Jacksonville extended its lead through tries by winger Vashon Marrs and prop forward Justin Williams. Findlay missed the conversion attempts on both.
There were heavy rain showers before the game kicked off making for slippery conditions both under foot and with ball in hand, but despite the lousy conditions, Jacksonville head coach Sean Rutgerson says his guys are obviously thrilled with the win.
“We’re pretty happy,” he says. “It wasn’t a good quality game because it was slippery, but we managed to get a few tries on them, and all the boys are very happy.”
As for the Mayhem, a continuing string of knock-ons and dropped balls compounded their undoing. They rarely managed to complete a full set of six tackles, particularly in the second half.
Hooker Bart Longchamp and halfback Jordan Morley scored tries for Tampa in the first half. Their final four-pointer was scored by replacement forward Robert Vaughn late in the game and there were no conversions.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the first half,” says Mayhem head coach David Ulch. “There were a lot of knock-ons, and we gave up a lot of penalties. We had opportunities, especially in their 30, that we didn’t capitalise on and that kind of hurt us.”
Ulch adds that it was disappointing to lose the championship just one year after winning it for the first time.
“We wanted it to be a lot closer than that, but we lost that game ourselves. It was probably the worst game we played all season, so we kind of shot ourselves in the foot. It was very tough.”
The win capped off an undefeated season for the Axemen, who can now lay claim to the mantle of being one of the most successful clubs in the US in recent times.