With the Atlantic Cup almost a week behind us now its given me time to sit back relax and think about what I had just witnessed and ponder some of the more interesting news that came out of the tournament. This news wasn’t announced in any pomp and ceremony but on the side in just regular discussions over beers and food late late in the night while I was working. The first hint of this came when we dropped off one of the crucial members of this team off at the airport.
The blogs I wrote during the Atlantic Cup you would have seen me mention Dane Campbell’s name on several occasions. Dane is a truly remarkable person. Steve Mascord and I gave Dane a lift to the airport and during the trip he was good enough to give us some of his story. So Dane played in the NRL for the New Castle Knight where injuries saw him make the decision to move back home to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland with his young family (Dane is only 28) He had several more seasons in the QLD Cup playing for Easts and Redcliffe. Dane is a passionate International Rugby League man, a very, very rare breed in Australia let alone in the NRL. He is still one of the few players that feel representing you country is the highest honour one can have.
Dane Campbell (centre) and some of the Jamaican Staff analysing that nights game (it was 2 am when this photo was taken)
So during his time in the QLD Cup Dane through some contacts decided that The West Indies was a great place to go in and set up Rugby League. So the West Indian Rugby League Association was set up. But this was a strategic move to identify a country that would be wanting to play the sport. Jamaica turned out to be that country. But nothing can be done without anyone that is willing to work on the ground directly. Dane was lucky that he found Romeo Monteith and Roy Calvert to be two such people. With them they have taken Jamaican Rugby League to where it is.
Jamaica now not only boasts a national competition of 7 teams and has been successfully running for 5 years now, but it has a University competition, a national 9s competition and now is being playing in schools as part of the curriculum. Romeo and Roy have been instrumental in this and it has been a great recognition of their work that they have an official development officer position from the European Federation where Romeo is paid to help develop the sport in Jamaica.
So what is the next step for the Jamaicans? As I mentioned there is now a University competition and the sport has started to be played in high schools. And this is where the hearts and monds will be won by the sport. Talking with Roy Calvert, who not only works in spreading the sport but is a player for the national team as well. The strategy that Roy and Dane will be taking into the schools is one that is familiar to Rugby league over its 115 year history. That is in helping the community and to pay players to play the game.
Roy Calvert receiving his Jamaican Jersey from Jamaican legend Des Drummond
The plan is to identify the top 10 best players from the high school program and to train them each week, twice a week in a camp over the Jamaican Rugby league season. What the players will get out of this is a scholarship that will help them and their parents in paying school fees and equipment. Now you may think this sounds like an expensive venture, but with the per capita GDP roughly US$8500, which is about US$23 a day, but a large section of people earning as low as US$1 a day in wages and school fees around US$100 a year its not that an expensive venture to be able to find some willing sponsors to help make this a reality. When I asked Roy what the first steps to this happening are “We already have identified students and in a couple weeks will start the training” he goes on to say that “My first step is to set up a separate bank account and then look for sponsors to make this a reality”. This should be no problem I feel since Roy is a Banker himself.
So, with the University Championships and High Schools what is the point of all this development. Again going back to discussions with Dane and Roy “Essentially within 5 years we want to have a semi-professional team playing out of Jamaica in the AMNRL” said Roy. This of course will also all come down to David Niu and the AMNRL whether they will allow such a team. When David was asked his answer was short and succinct “Yes, definitely!” They would be like the Warriors in the NRL or Catalans the ESL and would provide teams and fans something unique in the AMNRL season to travel to the Caribbean.
Dane Campbell looks over the team as they warm up before the Canada game
The team would be based out of Kingston, which is, as we like to say in the language of Rugby League the “heartland” of the sport in Jamaica. The team would seek to use the players that come through the high school scholarship system, and thus already have experience to make up the team. The Hurricanes team would seek to be at least semi-professional where players get some money and the club covers their travel costs, similar to what the Jacksonville Axemen do. When on the road the Jax players have all their costs covered.
So how would the Kingston Hurricanes affect the local Jamaican Championships? Hopefully a positive one. The idea is that players come through the Hurricanes and the school and University system will play in the Hurricanes over a couple years and then go through to the domestic teams, leaving room for new players to come through. Of course these players are still in the prime of their playing careers and so the local domestic competition will still be of high quality. It certainly wont be a retirement home as such, the local competition will be of high quality and provide a profile for businesses to promote themselves in.
Romeo Monteith (front, manager), Dane Campbell (center, trainer) and Mark Smith (Back, physio and trainer) overseeing training
One other great possibility is that there could be an annual challenge in that the Domestic Champions can pit themselves against the Hurricanes. Certainly it’s clear there is much scope for what can be achieved by the Jamaican Rugby League domestically and internationally. Of course the National team should profit from this as well. Not only will the JRL have professional players from overseas to call upon but also local professional domestic players to call upon.
Sure! Once Roy has the bank and legalities sorted out, if you want to provide sponsorship or help out the Jamaican Rugby League you will be able to contact him or the JRL about how you can sponsor the players. Once details are available, Rugby League International Scores will have them on the website.