By Brian Lowe (RugbyLeaguePlanet.com)
On a chilly and blustery Friday night in Jacksonville, Florida, the USA Hawks hung on to beat Jamaica 20-14 in the opening game of the Firehouse Subs Rugby League World Cup Americas Region Qualifying series.
In what turned out to be a competitive and entertaining match, the home team edged the visitors by four tries to three after leading narrowly 10-6 at halftime.
The hallmark of the game was the Hawks’ resolute defense, particularly in the closing stages of each half. They bent, but would not break under immense pressure applied by the Jamaicans, who were desperate to snap their increasingly lengthy losing streak.
The American strategy of hitting it up the middle via the forwards saw the likes of Mark Offerdahl, who captained the side for the first time, Steve Howard and John Purnell crash into Jamaican tacklers unrelentingly before Offerdahl scored the first try of the series ten minutes in.
Hooker Kristian Freed slotted the extras for a 6-0 lead, then just eight minutes later, Taylor Howden went in for the US to extend the margin to ten.
Jamaica found the going tough trying to find a way through the Hawks’ defensive lines, but their perseverance paid off at around the 30 minute mark when one of their best on the night, prop Ross Peltier, forced his way over the line from close range. Five-eighth Joel Farrell added the extras and the Reggae Warriors were back in contention trailing 10-6.
Just before the break, USA’s Sam Carson was binned for contact with a player fielding a kick, giving Jamaica a man advantage either side of the main break, however, they weren’t able to capitalize on it.
The home team was first to score within minutes of the resumption of play when center Danny Howard barged over following good lead up work by the Hawks. A quick ball by Freed, who had an outstanding game at dummy half, was perfectly placed for a rampaging Howard, who wouldn’t be denied from five meters out.
Freed’s conversion was good and the Hawks stretched their lead to 16-6.
The US maintained composure and continued to mount wave after wave of attacks, but a promising move was broken up by an errant pass that bounced nicely for Jamaica’s Farrell, who scooped up the loose ball inside his own 30 meters and torched the cover defense to score an unlikely try in the corner.
His kick for the extra points missed, leaving the score at 16-10.
The USA hit back almost immediately with a nicely worked try by Fullback Corey Makelim for a 20-10 scoreline.
From that point on though the Reggae Warriors applied all the pressure. They threw everything they had at the Hawks knowing they had to be next to score and they were when a tiring US leaked a late try.
However, try as they might, the Jamaicans couldn’t break through for what could have been the tying score and fell short of a victory they felt was within their grasp.
“A very tough game, a really challenging game,” USA head coach Brian McDermott told RugbyLeaguePlanet.
“The Jamaicans were a group of very big and athletic men that needed to be defended and it was a real challenge for us. We toughed it out to get the win, which I was really pleased with.”
A disappointed Jamaican team must now regroup for what will be a do or die game for them against Canada next week.
“We were in it for the full game, which is a positive, but at the end of the day we’re disappointed not to get the win,” said Jamaica head coach Romeo Monteith.
“I thought we had our opportunities, but I don’t think we moved the ball as much as we needed to.”
Perhaps the last word should go to a victorious debutant Hawks skipper Mark Offerdahl, who led by example for the full 80 minutes.
“Very happy the boys hung in there,” he said. “Made it a bit tough for ourselves with a lot of knock-ons and penalties when we didn’t need them, but credit to them, hung in there and got the win.
“We had a game plan and when we did stick to it we dominated, but then we lost our way on the goal line.”
The US now has a full week off to prepare for their next game against arch-rivals Canada.
USA Hawks: 20
Tries: Offerdahl (10), Howden (12), D. Howard (43), Makelim (54)
Goals: Freed 2/4
Jamaica Reggae Warriors: 14
Tries: Peltier (30, 78), Farrell (49)
Goals: Farrell 1/3