Written by Zack Wilson
One of the international rugby league highlights of 2018 was Jamaica sealing their place at the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
They did so by beating the USA and Canada in the Americas Championship, which was held in Jacksonville, Florida in December last year.
They overcame Canada 38-8 in their first game, before seeing off the United States 16-10 in the final.
Romeo Monteith is Jamiaca Rugby League’s main man. A coach, an administrator and just about everything else, he has been a lynchpin of our sport on his island for many years now.
Everything Rugby League caught up with Monteith via email to see how things are progressing in Jamaica, as they build up to their first appearance at a Rugby League World Cup in 2021.
Monteith acknowledges that qualification was an emotional moment for everyone associated with rugby league in Jamaica.
And while everyone celebrated, there has been a growing awareness that the next stage of the project is beginning, and that more hard work is required.
“The celebrations continue within our RL family,” said Monteith.
“I dare say it will last through to 2021 when we make our RLWC debut.
“After winning the qualifying game, I did think to myself, ‘Your work load just went up by 20!’
“This game takes a lot in terms of personal and family time for all of us.
“It’s a very small group that volunteers to administer the sport and it’s a lot of work.”
One thing which helped to boost the Jamaican squad in qualification was the readiness with which many UK players of Jamaican heritage put their hands up to play.
Super League players like Ben Jones-Bishop and Ash Golding played their part, as well as a clutch of players from clubs outside of Super League.
Their role was vital, according to Monteith, and their willingness to play for the Jamaican jersey is testament to the way that the Jamaican Diaspora treasures its heritage.
“We wouldn’t have qualified for the World Cup without the playing ability of our UK heritage players,” he explained.
“We always strive to give equal opportunity to all our players, both domestic and UK-based. That has meant playing Test matches in Europe and the Americas.
“In addition we have had a 50/50 split for some games in the past.
“I think we will have more UK heritage players putting their hand up to represent and as always, each will be welcomed as long as they have the right attitude and commitment.
“Our heritage players are very proud of their roots, they speak about it all the time, being proud to represent for themselves and for their parents or grandparents.
“Some are way more culturally integrated than others, but all are proud and aware of what it means to be Jamaican.
“It’s important to point out that in Jamaican culture, Jamaicans who live overseas are seen to be 100 percent Jamaicans just as those living on the island.”
It would be great to see Jamaica host a Test Match. Sadly, at the moment, that seems to be a little way off happening.
Given that iconic cricket stadiums like the Sydney Cricket Ground have hosted rugby league internationals, it would be great to see Kingston’s iconic Sabina Park cricket ground host the Reggae Warriors one day.
Monteith agrees, but also warns that finding good enough facilities to host internationals on the island remains an issue currently.
“We have hosted only one international and that was Canada in 2017, at the University of the West Indies,” he said.
“We don’t have a field for ourselves, much less a stadium, so any type of international is at a football stadium.
“Sabina Park would be great for an international. It comes with a massive price tag though, but one day…”
One of the main issues for non-Tier One countries in rugby league is finding meaningful fixtures outside of World Cup qualifiers.
Jamaica do not have games inked in for 2019 yet, something which should shame the RLIF.
“It’s our hope to play at least two Test Matches,” said Monteith.
“We want one in Jamaica and one or two in Europe. The lads have said they’d love a training camp in Jamaica.
“We will have to wait and see, however, because finance us a big issue in everything.
“But it can’t be done this year, we will try hard for 2020.”
Of course, for the international side to flourish, it is also necessary for there to be a strong domestic game in Jamaica.
The schools game is flourishing on the island, and there are several open age sides battling it out on a regular basis too.
“We have around 20 active senior teams at the moment,” said Monteith.
“We have three adult leagues: the Intercollegiate, Division 2 and the National Club Championship, which is Division 1.
“Things flow and ebb as finances and player availability means teams rise and fall all the time.
“But we are pleased that, overall, playing numbers have been stable or have increased in recent years.
“The school scene is going good. Again, we have a stable competition.
“We have 12 schools that play. There were nine U-19 teams in the recently concluded competition.
“We have 12 teams for U-16 and eight schools for U-14.
“There’s real talent there, indeed. I think it would be good for semi-pro and professional clubs to give some interest to us because there is plenty of talent here, and better athletes will gravitate to the sport once they see there is a pathway to professionalism.”
As ever, sponsorship remains an important source of finance for Jamaican rugby league, and any help that anyone can provide is welcome.
“We are in desperate need of sponsorship for those high school competition,” said Monteith.
“So if any company or person out there wants to come on board, we’d love the help.”
One of the major developments for rugby league in the Americas in recent years has been the establishment of Toronto Wolfpack.
Monteith feels that the presence of a professional team in Canada could be a positive thing for Jamaican rugby league.
His dream remains that Jamaica will one day have its own professional competition, though, that can work independently of other countries.
“Toronto have been to Jamaica with one of their combines a few years ago,” he said.
“There’s been dialogue on and off from time to time.
“They are indeed a positive force, I think we all would like to see them do some tangible work like establish academies, or sign players from the domestic comps in Canada, USA and Jamaica, but they are a business first, we all have to understand that.
“Everyone just has to build themselves and create their own pathways.
“Our dream in Jamaica is a semi-pro competition that will produce and attract our own elite players and not have to depend on outside forces.”
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