The USA Rugby League Pioneers Team list, that will play the Leeds Rhinos in Jacksonville on Sunday, January 11th has been released.
Twenty four players from across 10 teams in the USARL will make up the squad that will assemble in Jacksonville on January 10 for a day of training sessions and planning before the game on the following day. The match up will be used as a pre-season game for Leeds who plan on playing their full 25 man roster with unlimited interchange so the coaching staff can assess all player levels. The Pioneers will also use all 24 players during the game, and this will be an opportunity for each to show they have what it takes to play at the next level.
The Pioneers team is made up entirely of players who have not previously been named to major international games, yet have displayed enough skill and toughness to be able to handle the major step up in the physical demands the Leeds Rhinos will bring. It will also be a chance for them to impress for consideration when a true national team needs to be selected. "The concept of the Pioneers is to give all players across the USARL a chance to help develop the sport, while creating great relationships with other teams and players," said Spinner Howland. "We had over 50 players express interest to be a part of this game, so cutting it down to less than half was tough based on the principle of the Pioneers concept, and I can tell you there are some very good and equally talented players who we couldn’t include. But after conversations with all the teams coaches, players own ability to travel to Jacksonville, trying to get as many teams as possible represented, and ensuring each player had enough skill and was physically ready for this level of contact, a good mix of team veterans and young emerging players has been found. The Pioneers is not designed as the pathway to the national team, and there will be plenty of opportunity for that in the future, but with the players who have been chosen for this specific game, I am certain we will see everyone giving it their all in an effort to impress the coaches who will be in attendance. It may not be official, but it is still an opportunity to prove they are ready, and any player would be crazy not to approach it with that in mind."
In the lead up to the Pioneers game two other incredible opportunities have come for some USARL players. From December 10 through 22, the Wigan Warriors (UK) will be in Florida for their annual pre-season training camp, and they have offered 3 USA players the chance to join them. Tampa Mayhem hard-man Josh Heath (2nd row/lock) and Central Florida players Brandon Gould (Prop) and Sterling Wynn (Fullback/Wing) will join the Warriors for the camp. The three of them will also join the Axemen team who will scrimmage against the Wigan Warriors in Jacksonville on Thursday, December 18 before attending the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL Football game.
The Leeds Rhinos have also extended an invitation to have 2 Americans join their camp that will run from January 7 through 14. The excitement is very high for the Leeds Rhinos USA Sister team, the Kill Cliff Atlanta Rhinos, to have center Terrance Williams join the camp, and he will be joined by Axemen Joe Eichner. This is the fourth visit to Florida for Leeds and they have a good number of local supporters in Jacksonville due to their previous visits to the city.
The game will be played in Jacksonville on Sunday, January 11 and pre-sale tickets can be purchased for only $7.50 by CLICKING HERE.
The Pioneers Team:
Coaches/Staff: Apple Pope (Axemen) / Craig Howitt and Gareth Walker (CFL Warriors) / Danny Hanson (DC Slayers) / Robin Peers (Boston 13s) / Spinner Howland (USA Rugby League)
Medical: Mary Slover and Dr. Alex Moore (Axemen)
Game/Event Coordinators: Daniel Johnson / Bob Knopefel / Drew Slover