Rhinos Eyeing Second Seed in South
The Jacksonville Axemen have clinched the #1 seed, but the Atlanta Rhinos and Tampa Mayhem are in a tussle for the #2 spot after Week 5 of the SERL competition.
The Rhinos (3-2) have a game in hand over the Mayhem (2-3), although they must face the high-flying Axemen (5-0) in Jacksonville in the final round, while Tampa hosts the Southwest Florida Copperheads (0-5).
Atlanta has a superior points differential, which should be enough to secure them the #2 spot even if they drop their Week 6 contest against the Axemen.
Their points for and against margin was boosted with a 56-0 blanking of the Mayhem Saturday at Silverback Stadium in Atlanta.
In a game Tampa had circled as a must-win to avoid having to make a return trip to the Peachtree state for the first round of the playoffs, their plans went awry.
The Rhinos continued the momentum from their win against the Copperheads a week earlier and were rarely challenged during the 80 minutes.
Their completion rate was good, and their defense was stingy, refusing to let the Mayhem build any meaningful continuity.
“It was unexpected, especially as we lost to them earlier in the season,” said Rhinos captain Nick Newlin.
“We had a mindset that we wanted to keep it rolling, complete our sets and play better defense and that’s what we did. It's a big confidence boost for us going to Jacksonville. We always like going there to play because their crowds are so good.”
Tampa will need a huge win against the Copperheads this week while hoping the Rhinos have a big loss to have any chance of finishing second in the standings, remote though that may be.
“We obviously didn't come to play,” said Mayhem player/coach David Ulch.
“We had to play guys in different positions they weren’t familiar with and we were kind of low on numbers, especially after our game last week against Jacksonville. We also had a few new guys who'd never played league.”
In the other Week 5 SOUTH Conference game, Jacksonville posted a 62-10 away victory over the Copperheads in Fort Myers.
Their 11-try haul means the Axemen can’t be overtaken at the top of the standings even if Atlanta beats them this week.
Jacksonville piled up a 40-6 halftime lead behind a hat-trick of tries by Kyle Grinold, who was assisted by Jaden Laing (2), James Campbell and Will Fletcher.
In the second half, the Axemen put in four more tries via Jed Pearce, Khalial Harris (2) and Kris Townsel to close out the scoring.
Regular goalkicker Lachlan Bristow was rested for the match, so Pearce took over the role and went 9/11 on conversions.
“It was a big one win for us,” said Jacksonville head coach Sean Rutgerson.
“We’re really looking forward to next week against Atlanta, it’s going to be a big game. We need to win and we’re going to put everything into it.”
The Copperheads have been steadily improving each week in their inaugural season and this game was no exception.
Sterling Wynn and Jude Kermundu scored their two tries. Kermundu converted Wynn’s try but missed with the extras on his own.
In other positives for the new club, ex-Central Florida Warriors player Jay Mumbu had a solid game, while four rugby union players from West Palm Beach experiencing their first rugby league match all made useful contributions.
“Unfortunately, we had high penalties, but overall we really made a big improvement,” added Copperheads founder Curtis Goddard.
Week 5 scores:
Atlanta Rhinos 56-0 Tampa Mayhem
Jacksonville Axemen 62-10 Southwest Florida Copperheads