World Cup qualification can be a catalyst for better facilities in Jamaica

By James Vukmirovic

Jamaica’s first qualification for the Rugby League World Cup could help bolster facilities, according to the country’s Director of Rugby.

Romeo Monteith, a servant of the game on the island since it was first played there in 2008, feels the publicity that has already been generated by the qualification for the World Cup can help their cause as they fight for more recognition on the island.

He said it could be a ‘catalyst’ for improvements in facilities.

“Kids will want to play the game and have a hunger for the game,” he said.

“I have yet to see one kid play the game and just walk away, so the appetite is not a problem.

“The facilities are the problem, so we can’t over-reach in our competitions, but I do know that everywhere I’ve been, the people have been really positive.”

Romeo Monteith (R) has been a constant presence in Jamaican Rugby League for over 10 years

The team, nicknamed the “Raggae Warriors”, made headlines worldwide when they beat USA in the final of the 2018 Americas Championships on Saturday 17 November to qualify for the Rugby League World Cup for the first time.

For Monteith, the win and qualification was the culmination of 10 years of hard work.

He said: “For us, qualifying for the World Cup represents the end of one journey.

“It’s been a lifetime ambition to see Jamaica qualify for the Rugby League World Cup and we’ve been really close before, having missed out for 2013 and 2017, and it gave us the impetus to get there.

“Roy Calvert and I have been there since the beginning in 2008, so it’s the end of that journey for us especially.

“That said, it’s the start of a new journey, with Jamaica going out on the big stage in front of the world.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one that we’re looking forward to. We realise, as well, that there’s going to be a lot of work in store.”

Monteith is also the national team’s head coach. He knows he and Calvert, who also doubles up at Director of Finance and assistant head coach to the national team, will have a lot of work to do in the next three years.

“With not too many administrators on the island, Roy and I will need to take on a lot over the next three years,” he said.

“However, it’s not every day that you get to do something that impacts your nation, so it’s definitely something special.”

Jamaica’s first qualification for Rugby League’s major international competition has been well-received at home.

Monteith said the response in Jamaica has been really positive with plenty of national media coverage.

He said it is a huge boost to have people from the remote areas all the way to the cities know about the success.

However, Monteith said the success of the national team, which was bolstered by players from Super League clubs like Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity, should not take away from the hard work that is going on in Jamaica, where they sometimes struggle to find pitches to play on.

“It’s a real challenge as we don’t have a stand-alone Rugby pitch we can use and we’ve had to cancel a number of college games and the 9 a side competition, so that brings you down to earth after the highs of Jacksonville as we fight for space in the Jamaican sports sector, with the main sports being Football and Track and Field,” he said.

“All we want is one field to develop and use as ours, especially to give the domestic boys proper training to get them up to task for the International game. They usually get a 20 x 20 space if they’re lucky.”

Jamaica are the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the Rugby League World Cup

Looking ahead to 2021 and the World Cup in England, Monteith and his team have a lot of planning to do to ensure they are in the best shape for the tournament.

“We’re working on a managed process for matches over the next three years. We don’t have a lot of money, so we need to be careful how much we spend on friendlies, but we’ll do what we can,” he said.

“We have the Americas Championships again next year, facing USA and Canada and, we hope, Chile, so that will cover things in 2019. In 2020, we’ll look to see what friendlies we can get in Europe and, hopefully, play one or two high quality games.”

Monteith has, however, allowed himself to think ahead to the tournament and has given thought about dream matches.

“I think all three games we’ll play in the group stage will be a dream because of where we’ve come from and what we’ve achieved,” he said.

“We’re guaranteed to play one of Australia, England, New Zealand or Tonga, plus one or more of the top 10 nations, so all the games are a dream for us.

“That being said, I think England vs Jamaica in the first game of the World Cup could top all of that!”