When Jamaica beat the USA earlier this month, the Reggae Warriors made history by qualifying for their first Rugby League World Cup and Romeo Monteith’s men are aiming to impress in the competition which, in 2021, will be hosted in England.
After the nations’ historic achievement, Get ’em Onside got in touch with the Jamaican head coach and the man in charge of the first Carribean nation to ever qualify for the competition is understandably proud of his team’s achievement. While confessing that the sport is a minor one in the country, he revealed that, nevertheless, people are keen to celebrate the victory. “Our minister of sport has acknowledged our historic feat with a press release,” he told the site, adding that “family and friends and people on the street have been buzzing about it.”
Such is the relatively small standing of rugby league in Jamaica, Monteith – in charge of the national team since 2011 – shared that there is a lack of facilities available to the team. Not that that, though, has stopped the passion shining through. “We have no home or field for rugby of any sort in Jamaica, so we share with football fields which are usually not suited because of stones and hardness,” he admitted. That has, in his opinion, hit the participation levels due to parents wanting to ensure children don’t feel the impact of injuries caused by such surfaces. Nevertheless, there has been increasing interest in recent years, he revealed. “There’s a lot of interest from young males and females to play,” he proudly explained. “They get excited whenever they see a ball and want to be involved. We have close to a thousand active players as we are in a dozen high schools, six colleges and we have a fair few community teams,” he added. The fact that the nation has qualified for the World Cup will, Monteith believes, lead to even more interest in the sport.
Within the Reggae Warriors’ ranks are Super League stars Ashton Golding and Ben Jones-Bishop of Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity respectively and, with the pair lining up against less illustrious players from lower league teams in the UK system, their impact has been vital for the team’s success. “Ben and Ashton were great for the group, humble and natural leaders,” he explained, adding that the Super League talent has always been keen help and represent the Jamaican nation. Indeed, the addition of Golding and Jones-Bishop to the squad were the final pieces of the national team jigsaw according to Monteith who expressed his belief that, ever since losing to USA’s Hawks in 2011, he and his team have been working towards this triumph. Of the victory in Jacksonville this month, the head coach admits that he was always confident. “We knew we could do it but we knew we had improve the coaching support,” he explained. He added that it was important to get a UK-based staff to keep the England-based players together so that the team would have chemistry. Demonstrating the desire for the game to succeed in Jamaica and the player’s will to represent the country, Monteith told the site that, given a lack of funding, “the players agreed to pay most of their airfares to play and, well, the rest is history.”
While Jamaica will head to England in 2021 as underdogs, their ambitious and confident head coach spoke of his belief that his team won’t be pushovers. “We are going to the cup to compete,” adding that “I think we’ll be most people’s second favourite team.” With a large population with Jamaican and Caribbean links in the UK, Monteith hopes that the team will be able to capture their imaginations. “We hope the entire Jamaican and Caribbean diaspora in the UK will rally around the team and it a carnival atmosphere,” he continued.
With a history of colour and celebration being historically linked with Jamaican sporting teams, their presence at the 2021 World Cup will no doubt catch the eye off the field. If Monteith and his team have their way, they will also impress on the pitch.