Written by Zack Wilson
Jamaica will be coming to the UK this autumn to face the England Knights in an international match at Headingley.
The two sides will clash on Sunday, October 20, in what will be an historic day for rugby league in the northern hemisphere.
Such a game would have seemed beyond the bounds of probability not that long ago. The fact that it is taking place is a testament to the hard work that Jamaicans have put into developing the game on their proud island.
One man who has put in years and years of hard work is national coach Romeo Monteith, a man who seems to have done every job going at the Jamaican Rugby League Association.
Monteith feels that the Reggae Warriors’ recent qualification for the 2021 World Cup could trigger the next level of development for the small island nation that has exerted such huge cultural impact on the world.
He also believes that the contest can demonstrate to the world just how widespread our sport, which is traditionally seen by outsiders as belonging to regions of a small group of countries, is becoming.
“To be honest, the vindication for our hard work in Jamaica, and the commitment of our local and heritage players to the national program since 2009, came when we qualified for the World Cup last November,” Monteith told Everything Rugby League.
“It’s great to play against England Knights and it shows the world that rugby league is truly fast becoming a global sport.
“We have no illusions about where the English game is vs the Jamaican game, but this is what sport is about, the contest, the unlikely match ups and giving the public new talking points.”
Given that the Knights are going to be fielding a team which will consist entirely of Super League players, the Jamaican selection will be interesting.
Monteith confirmed that while the team would consist mainly of British-born heritage players, there would still be space in the group for domestic players from the island itself.
“As the game is in Europe and against an opposition with a full squad of professional players, I will select a majority UK based team of professionals to increase competitiveness,” he explained.
“Any national team being selected should have domestic players, this has always been my policy as head coach and it is also the policy of the JRLA Executive Board.
“However, funding challenges didn’t make this possible in previous games in Europe in 2016 and 2017.
“This time around, all being well, there will be domestic-based players playing in the game.”
As for which European-based players might be available for selection, Monteith intends to stay loyal to the men who have stayed loyal to the Reggae Warriors’ cause throughout their journey.
“All our declared and eligible players at all three professional levels are open for selection,” he said.
“Currently we have incumbents Ashton Golding and Ben Jones-Bishop who I imagine will play once they are injury-free from the Super League.
“There are other players such as Michael Lawrence and Greg Johnson who are declared and registered players who if available, could feature.
“It’s important to us that the narrative around our team focus on the core group of players who have done so much to help place Jamaica where we are now.
“Stalwarts such as Lamont Bryan, Joe Brown, Ross Peltier, Omari Caro , Jy-Mel Coleman, Joel Farrell, Tyronie Rowe, Renaldo Wade and others who have been the backbone players in this team for the past five years or longer.
Monteith has also not ruled out playing another European country while the squad is in the UK. It remains to be seen whether or not resources can stretch so far, though.
“We would love to play another game if the conditions are right,” he said.
“Since 2016, my aim has always been to play two matches in Europe and two in the Americas annually to help improve the team.
“It all comes down to resources though.”
The Knights played in the Pacific region last year, touring Papua New Guinea, where they played two games against the national side.
Monteith would love to see them visit his own island nation one day in the future.
“There’s no reason why they couldn’t [play here],” he said.
“Obviously government and corporate support of the game in PNG dwarfs what we have in Jamaica, but I don’t see any reason outside of costs that would prevent a game.”
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