Written by Callum Walker
When you think of Jamaica, Usain Bolt and the Jamaican athletics team comes to mind. But, it’s the Caribbean nation’s Rugby League side that seems to be on everyone’s lips ahead of the 2021 World Cup.
Triumphs over Canada and the USA – who themselves were quarter-finalists in the 2013 competition – in the Americas qualifying section, sent Jamaica to the World Cup for the very first time in their history.
That qualification was yet another rung on the ladder of Jamaican Rugby League and it has all come at such a mighty speed. 2004 was the year in which the Caribbean island’s governing body was formed and current leading coach Jermaine Coleman has been part of the Jamaican set-up for almost six years alongside Romeo Monteith.
Though in a group with 2008 winners New Zealand, Jamaica also face underdogs Lebanon and Ireland. Neither the Cedars nor the Wolfhounds will be pushovers, however, with the former exiting at the quarter-final stage in 2017.
Jamaican Rugby League has made so many steps forward in recent years and that effort has been acknowledged throughout its small yet impassioned society. The game continues to grow and qualifying for Rugby League’s most prestigious international tournament at the first time of asking, has done so much to enhance that feeling.
The Reggae Warriors started their preparations last October when they went down 38-6 to the England Knights as Mason Caton-Brown registered Jamaica’s only score of the day. Of course, such a result showed the challenges they will face when they visit the British shores in 2021.
That task will not be as daunting for those already mixing it with the best in the Super League and NRL. The likes of Ben Jones-Bishop, Caton-Brown and Ashton Golding have all donned the green, gold and black of the national side whilst others such as Kallum Watkins, Michael Lawrence, Jordan Turner and Lewis Tierney all qualify on heritage grounds. So, if some of Super League’s household names turn out for Jamaica in 2021, it will come as no surprise.
Jamaica are one of two World Cup debutants – the other being Greece – but with such a vociferous support back home and the tremendous progress the nation has made, they may well spring a shock or two at next year’s tournament.
It will certainly be refreshing to see not just one, but two new countries outline their credentials on the greatest stage. And, Jamaica seem to be very well prepared.