Rhinos, Axemen to Play for Title: South

Defending USA Rugby League champions Atlanta are one game away from a trip back to the national title match but standing in their way are the red-hot Jacksonville Axemen.
Rhinos, Axemen to Play for Title: South

The Rhinos and Axemen were triumphant in Saturday’s semifinals, both posting lop-sided wins against the Tampa Mayhem and Southwest Florida Copperheads respectively.

In the earlier matchup in Atlanta, the Rhinos poured on the pressure from the opening kickoff gaining the ascendancy and controlling play from the outset.

They kept the scoreboard ticking over at a great rate of knots, building what turned out to be an insurmountable lead by the main intermission.

At halftime Atlanta led 46-6 and although they may have taken their foot off the gas a little in the second half, they went on to score a 68-10 victory to book their place in next week’s SOUTH Conference championship game.

The Mayhem made the trip up to Atlanta missing a lot of their key starters, but still felt like they could execute their game plan and come out on top, however, that wasn’t to be.

“We fell behind in the first five minutes and never recovered,” says Tampa Owner/CEO Billy Neilson.

“Our line speed wasn't good, we couldn't complete sets, and we couldn't hang on to the ball. At this point in the season we can't afford to not play at our best, especially against the defending champs. We have a lot of re-evaluating to do this offseason, but I look forward to regrouping and building towards next season.”

In the second semifinal in Jacksonville, the Axemen were relentless in scoring at better than a point a minute in their 88-0 demolition of the Copperheads.

As has been the case all season long, Jacksonville maintained possession by keeping the ball in hand and completing their sets allowing them to stay in the face of the opposition for the full 80 minutes.

By the first half water break they were already ahead by 32-0 and had extended that to 50-0 by halftime having crossed the try line nine times.

Seven more tries in the second stanza completed the rout and there were some familiar names getting on the scoresheet again this time.

Lachlan Bristow (3), David Thomas (3), Kevin Wathen (2), Tyler McClain (2), Kyle Grinold (2), David Washington, Montana Northcroft, Matt Thornton and Steve Hill.

To be fair to the Copperheads, they traveled to North Florida without several of their better players and although the final score doesn’t reflect it, they never stopped trying and if not for some poor handling on the final pass on several occasions they may well have broken their duck.

As a result of these SERL semifinals, the Axemen will host the SOUTH Conference championship game next Saturday and head coach Sean Rutgerson is under no illusions as to what's in store.

“It’ll be a massive test for us.”