So its getting to some interesting times here in the USA. The finals are upon us. Last weekend saw both the AMNRL and USARL semi-finals happen and we now have the Grand Finalists set for both competitions. The three Philadelphia teams in both comps failed to reach the grand finals and we see two of the usual suspects in the Grand finals, namely the New York Knights and Jacksonville Axemnen. These are two of the power house teams in the USA in general and are both heavy favourites to win their respective comps.
Philadelphia Fight 18 – 58 Boston 13s
Jacksonville Axemen 58 – 00 Washington D.C. Slayers
I was fortunate enough that time dictated that I was able to attend one of the semi-finals. The closest fro me was the Philadelphia Fight v Boston 13s match, played at Delaware. Its a temporary home for this year the Fight have since their usual stadium in Conshohocken is being renovated to a full Rugby League field for next season.
The first half of the match was very much as expected a tight affair. The 13s were first to score but the Fight were able to claw their way back and take a small lead into half time. Both teams were hitting hard and fast, with Boston being the larger of the two with some big forwards up front. The Fight were quicker on the edges and probably in hindsight should have used them a lot more. The 13s have been a real surprise packet this year, finishing 3er on the table and beating or troubling a lot of the much fancied teams. In fact a few weeks ago they beat the Fight.
It seems that what ever formula they had figured out for the fight worked once again. The Philadelphia team seemed to want to take on Boston at their won game and that was hit up the middle. The larger 13s pack was just going to be too strong on that front. In the second half of the game, the Phily team were visibly tired and battered and lapses in defence saw some easy tries go in. Every time the Fight got close to the 13s line it seemed like there was an answer for them. One of the last real chances they had was snuffed out by a juggling intercept try to put the score out of reach for them. But they kept trying and going forward, great credit to them, they never gave up to the end. But it was to be Boston’s first ever Grand Final appearance. The fact that Boston this year had won the successful bid to host the Grand Final at MIT was also an incentive.
In the other Semi finals, the Jacksonville Axemen took on the Washington DC slayers at Hodges Stadium Jacksonville. From the outset it was going to be Jacksonville’s day. A large home crowd at their home stadium, the DC Slayers have been a hot and cold team all year and Finals football dictates that its the consistent teams that will win. The Axemen were brutal in their demolition of the Slayers, there is probably no way to even sugar coat it, 58-00 is a demolition and the Slayers seemed to be a far cry from the team that I saw beat Boston only a month earlier. Even then I remember that they had some bad lapses of concentration and almost lets the 13s through to get a win. In any case it was a huge win for the Axemen and they now go through to their 3rd grand final in 3 years against the 13s
New York Knights 52 – 4 Bucks County Sharks
Philadelphia Bulls 32 – 38 Connecticut Wildcats
The First of the AMNRL semis was the Bulls up against the Wildcats. With home ground advantage the Bulls were probably favourite to win. Having come in second in the table and had a good win over the Raiders the previous week to knock them out. It was a tight affair, the Cats went ahead early in the game but the Bulls were able to pull things back to have it 16-16 at half time. In the second half it seemed that things were going to go the home teams way with the Bulls having a fairly commanding lead 32 – 20 at the 60 minute mark. However as the old saying goes “Rugby League matches are won in the last 20 minutes” and this certainly was the case. The Bulls through some reason were not able to find the line again where as the Cats got stuck right into them and ran away in the last 20 minutes to take the match and an upset 38-32.
They will meet the New York Knights who were clinical in their destruction of the Sharks. A 52 – 4 scoreline indicates that they are in the mood to defend their title and its going to take one hell of an effort to usurp them. The first few minutes seemed promising for the Bucks County team, they scored a try in the the opening minutes. But after that it was all the Knights. Try after try came. The 24-4 half time score was an indication of what’s to come. The second half was the same the Knights were able to apply the pressure and break through the Sharks defences easily and ran out easy winners in the end.
This weekend will see me travel up to Connecticut to see the AMNRL Grand Final between the New York Knights and Connecticut Wildcats. Should be a good game and be a very good comparison just on the skill level where both comps stand, having now seen one of the USARL semi-finals.
So there we have it. The four grand finalists: So here are my predictions for the two games. This weekend sees the AMNRL Grand final with New York and Connecticut playing. Bothy times the Knight and Wildcats played in the season saw the Knight have wins. Their first time was a close affair with a 26-22 win to the Knights. But is showed that the Cats would not be easy beats by any stretch of the meaning.
I have not seen either of the teams ply this year except at the North v South match where some of the Cats players were involved. That game was a fairly messy affair for a short notice match, with a lot of drop ball but the Cats players did seem to stand out. The knight did not send anyone to the game and so its been hard to get a gauge on them. The second time they met, the Knights had an easier time of it winning 44-28.
Defence will rule this game I feel. Both teams have good attacking options but I feel it will be defence that will win this match. It will be the team that can hold out the opposition the best and for the longest. Tight defensive lines, moving together and not giving away silly Penalties. Rob Irwin will most probably be the main officiating referee for this match and he is one for keeping the offside rule tight. The team winning the least penalties will win this match, this is the tradition in US Rugby League in General.
Next weekend is the USARL grand final. I won’t be there since I am in London, however I have seen Boston play twice now and I have noticed two things about them. First they have a big tough forward pack. Their numbers 8 – 13 are all big and strong and mobile and can punch holes through defences. Second is that they are very good off their defensive line. They are a back to the wall kind of team and seem to handle pressure very well.
In attack there really are only two ways to do things, well in the USA anyway, there is the subtle approach or the, hit’em in the head with a brick approach. For Boston to beam Jacksonville, I think they will have to play some ingenuity into their game, they need to be able to create the holes and attack. They have some skilful players and the odd chip and charge here and there could keep them on their toes enough to break through with the large lads.
The Axemen need to use their speedsters out wide. If there is any chink in the Boston armour its there. If they are 5-10 meters from the Boston line and get repeat sets of six, they need to just keep hammering away at the Boston line. This is the brick approach, its the only way I see it.
I have seen DC and Philly make the same mistake in their matches against Boston. When they had Boston on the ropes with 3, 4 and 5 sets of six off the back of penalties 5 m from the line they would take the option to kick for goal… DO NOT KICK FOR GOAL! This just made them realise that they can really defend their line and made them lift, they got a massive confidence boost out of it. Its the last thing you want to give a team.
So my predictions: AMNRL – New York Knights by 10 points USARL: Jacksonville by 6 points
AMNRL Grand Final will take place at Fairfield Ludlowe High School Football Stadium, Connecticut. Kickoff is at 3:30pm.
USARL Championship Final will take place on Saturday, August 25, 2012 – 6pm Kick-off MIT Steinbrenner Stadium, 120 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
Is it on or is it off, that is the questions and depends on who you believe. This week Steve Mascord wrote and article where he said there has been a falling out with Premier Sports and the AMNRL. Though the game is back on, I have heard that it is not, that it is off. But one thing that I have learnt with Rugby League politics in the USA, they play their cards closer to their chest than a Wild West gun slinger and who knows what the actual truth is. This is one to wait and see till it happens. Its almost a case of seeing till it happens to believe it.
As for the re-unification, as far as I know, talk are still in progress. I had a very quick chat with Peter Illfield on Saturday and asked him and he said that they are still talking. Not sure they are any closer to a resolution but at least there are talks. I also managed to have a few words with Mik Shammas from the Boston team, he is very excited about the whole hosting of the Grand Final and also where the Boston 13s is heading and also the growth of NAMOA which is providing the match officials needed for these matches.
One last note on this, Talking to Ryan McGough, I asked him how the Grand Finals venues are choosen. It seems that teams that want to host it need to put bids in and then a selection committee sits and makes a decision. For the 2013 Grand Final bids have to be in by November already and a decision will be made by the end of January! It seems the USARL 9s may be back in Philadelphia next year at the Fights new Rugby League ground in Conshohocken.
Next week is the Rugby League European Federation Annual General Meeting. This year, with my work in Polish Rugby League I am privileged enough to attend the AGM. Even though Polska Rugby XIII is not a member yet, we, and other non-member nations, have been invited as observers to meet other nations to help build contacts and also to get new ideas on how to run and do things.
Its and exciting time and will be a great insight into how the organisation is run within. The fact that there are such meetings and is open to all members and even prospective members is a great thing and I and Lukasz Lucka look forward to meeting many of the movers and shakers in the sport in Europe and also gives me a chance to catch up with some old friends from my time living in Europe.
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