Jacksonville Wins Third National Title and 2018 USARL Champions

There’s an old saying in sports that you have to lose a championship before you can win one and that has rung true for the Brooklyn Kings (Photos: Allene Rachal).
Jacksonville Wins Third National Title and 2018 USARL Champions

The Jacksonville Axemen have completed a Cinderella season to win the 2018 USA Rugby League national championship.

Hosting the championship game against the Kings Saturday night at the University of North Florida, the Axemen trailed only once before going on to clinch a 56-16 victory.

And as has been the case all season long, their Australian import hooker and goalkicker Lachlan Bristow was the star of the show in amassing 36 points on his own.

He scored no fewer than five tries and booted eight conversions as Jacksonville went on to outscore Brooklyn by ten tries to three.

For their part, and despite being outplayed on the night, the Kings didn’t stop trying for the whole 80 minutes and made the final scoreline somewhat more respectable with two late tries.

Repeating a pattern that has been the norm this season, the Axemen scored first when right winger Tyler McClain dotted down within the opening minutes. Bristow missed with the convert for an early 4-0 lead.

Brooklyn hit back within minutes when one of their main playmakers hooker Jerome Easthope forced the ball over the line after sustained Kings pressure. The extras were added by halfback Reese Purcell to give the visitors a temporary 6-4 lead.

However, they didn’t stay in front for long as the home team scored five more tries in the lead up to halftime.

Bristow got three of them, while McClain picked up his second and fullback Will Fletcher scored one. Bristow converted all five tries to give Jacksonville what turned out to be an unassailable 34-6 lead at the main break.

Brooklyn had its chances to close the gap during the first forty minutes when both center Brandon Anderson and fullback Seimou Smith uncharacteristically spilled the ball with the try line within reach.

As has often been the case in 2018, the second half was pretty much a repeat of the first forty with the Axemen increasing their lead behind three more tries.

The first was scored by winger David Washington, who intercepted a pass and ran 90 meters to dot down untouched.

Bristow got his fourth and center Kyle Grinold added the other. Bristow converted all three scores.

The Kings, who might have thrown in the towel by that stage, instead stepped up their pressure and were rewarded with two tries to Anderson and Smith, one of which was converted by Purcell, to make it a 52-16 scoreline.

Then as time was about to expire, Bristow ran in for his fifth try of the game and capped it off with a swan dive into the try zone. He missed with the attempted conversion to leave the final score at 56-16.

Jacksonville head coach Sean Rutgerson says it’s obviously a very pleasing feeling to win a national championship.

“I’m really proud of all the players and how they went and just happy to get the win. Until the last 15 minutes or so, I never really felt like we were that far ahead because they’ve got so many danger players in their team and I was expecting them to break through, but I’m really happy with our defensive effort. We capitalized on quite a few of their mistakes, which put the pressure on. We had a couple of special efforts out of the team and that’s what you need in a grand final.”

It is Jacksonville’s third national championship adding to titles they won in 2010 and 2012.

In all, the Axemen have now made seven appearances in national championship games dating back to 2009.

For the Kings, it was their first time playing for a USARL title.

Head coach Brent Richardson says while the final result is disappointing, the season itself can’t be summed up the same way.

“We were undefeated all season and I thought we were a good chance down in Jacksonville. I thought we prepared really well as a team. Ultimately, you would’ve heard me speak about completion rate all year. We completed at 45 per cent and in big games that’s just not good enough. Errors defensively, as well as with the ball, is the opposite of what we built the season around which has really been built on defense. We hadn’t had more than three tries scored against us in any game, but full credit to Jacksonville, they’re a good side.”

Next up for both coaches is the NORTH vs SOUTH All Star game in Philadelphia on September 9 before they team up to guide the USA Hawks in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup Americas region qualifying series in November.