Jamaica: famous for Usain Bolt, numerous international cricketers (Chris Gayle, Courtney Walsh and Michael Holding to name a few) and the classic movie Cool Runnings.
Now they’ve qualified for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup after beating USA 16-10 in the 2018 Americas Championship (and Canada 38-8 in their only pool game).
This is good for international rugby league.
The international game is a tussle between Australia, New Zealand and England, with Pacific nations Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and PNG providing plenty of passion and some encouraging results. After that it’s pretty grim. Test matches outside of World Cups are almost an afterthought, with NRL fans (especially Canberra Raiders fans) hoping none of their players get injured. Australia only played two Tests this year, the mid-season Test is gone and the Four Nations has decreased in popularity.
Last year’s World Cup reflected the game’s inequality with teams from Groups A and B (Australia, England, France, Lebanon, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland and Tonga) earning six of the eight quarter finals places (Lebanon only won one game, but it was enough to make the quarters), with Groups C and D (Ireland, PNG, Wales, Fiji, Italy, USA) fighting over the last two. This created controversy, with Group C’s Ireland (two wins, one loss) missing the finals behind Group A’s Samoa, who finish third with one draw against Scotland and losses to New Zealand and Tonga. While it didn’t really matter as Samoa were belted by Australia in the quarter final, it still wasn’t a good look.
That unfairness has been address for the 2021 version, with 16 teams divided into four groups and the top top from each group making the quarter finals. Much fairer and easier to follow.
So why is Jamaica’s qualification important?
If nothing else, they’ll add some colour. Australia, New Zealand, England and Tonga are certain quarter finalists (even this far out), so watching the new boys have some fun will delight neutral fans. England’s Jamaican population will ensure plenty of support for their three games. If the tournament organisers are smart, they’ll rope in Bolt to do some crazy promotion to get local fans behind Jamaica.
Will Jamaica actually be competitive, or even make the quarter finals? Hard to say, but they can’t be worse than the team they beat to qualify – USA – who conceded 168 points in their three group games last year.
If Jamaica do well, they may entice new fans to rugby league. That can only be good for the game. We all loved Tonga and Fiji’s fairytale run to the semis and Lebanon’s competitiveness in 2017, so hopefully Jamaica gives us some good memories in 2021. It’ll give us something different to talk about as we wait for the inevitable Australia/New Zealand/England final.