In today’s edition of ‘Starting XVII’, we focus on competition new-comers Jamaica.
The Reggae Warriors stunned the rugby league world in November 2018, when they beat the USA 16-10 to win the Americas Championship and secure qualification for the 2021 World Cup for the first time in history.
They’re drumming up plenty of support ahead of the tournament and seem to be putting a handy squad together, so here’s who we think will make the starting line up…
Fullback – Ashton Golding
The Huddersfield fullback played a huge part in helping Jamaica qualify for the tournament and is one of three Giants likely to be included. His defence and positioning has always been his biggest asset, while he’s significantly improved the attacking side of his game in the past couple of years.
Wingers – Ben Jones-Bishop and Greg Johnson
Out wide are experienced wing pair Jones-Bishop and Johnson. Both have over 150 professional appearances to their names, most of which have come in Super League, Jones-Bishop has been a prolific try scorer since making his debut in 2008, amassing 144 tries for Leeds, London, Salford and Wakefield. Johnson, meanwhile, is also a natural finisher but is arguably renowned more for his aggressive running game, particularly from kick returns. Young wingers Jacob Ogden and Jacob Smillie will also be pushing for spots on the flanks.
Centres – Joe Brown and Keenen Tomlinson
Brown is the Reggae Warriors’ longest-serving player, with his earliest recorded appearance dating back to a game against South Africa in 2004 when he was still a teenager. Fast forward 16 years and he’s carved out a respectable career, becoming a linchpin in the Newcastle Thunder squad and developing a reputation as one of League 1’s most devastating centres. Tomlinson, meanwhile, is still in the early days of his career. The 22-year-old Batley Bulldog is the squad’s utility player, having featured in the outside backs, halves and back row, but has the perfect mix of pace and strength to nail down a centre spot.
Halves – Jordan Turner and James Woodburn-Hall
Experienced Huddersfield man Turner is the second Giant in the side and may slot into the halves instead of his preferred centre position. He’s played at stand-off for Huddersfield, St Helens and Salford in the past and will bring some experience and composure to the spine. Woodburn-Hall is similar in that he can play across the back line but has featured most prominently in the halves for Jamaica. He’s more a of a ‘play what you see’ type of halfback and will regularly look to take on the line.
Props – Jon Magrin and Jode Sheriffe
Currently playing in the Championship for Dewsbury and Oldham respectively, Magrin and Sheriffe provide the bulk and physicality in the front row. Neither have particularly caught the headlines throughout their careers but have gone about their business quietly, and are among the top props in the second tier.
Hooker – Jy-mel Coleman
Since ex-Keighley hooker Jamaine Wray retired, the no.9 jersey has been a problem position. Having Turner and Woodburn-Hall in the halves, however, frees up the chance for London Skolars’ Coleman to fill the void. He’s got solid distribution and passing ability but will likely have fellow Jamaican veteran Danny Thomas challenging him for the jersey.
Second Rowers – Luther Burrell and Joel Farrell
Burrell is a surprise inclusion but qualifies to play through his Jamaican father. During his time in rugby union he featured for the West Indies sevens team before being called up by England and could well choose to represent his dad’s nation once again. He’s been on the fringes of the Warrington side since switching codes and his big, athletic physique makes him an ideal choice in the second row. Farrell is another who’s long been involved in the Jamaican setup. He’s aggressive in both attack and defence and isn’t afraid to get under the skin of his opponents.
Loose Forward – Michael Lawrence
The third and final Huddersfield player in the squad, Lawrence is likely to be the man to lead from the front for the Reggae Warriors. He made his Jamaican debut against the England Knights at Headingley last Autumn and couldn’t speak highly enough of the setup and his commitment to Romeo Monteith’s side. He’s got bags of experience and is a hard-hitter in centre field.
Subs – Ross Peltier, Lamont Bryan, Jordan Andrade and Mo Agoro
If the Jamaicans are going to dominate anywhere then it will be in the forwards, meaning they’ll likely choose a big bench. Peltier and Andrade are both no-nonsense front rowers who’ll be thrown on to freshen up the pack, while Bryan has good handling skills as well as being a big body. Agoro usually lines up on the wing but his bulky physique and physical presence has seen him play in the back row on several occasions and that will likely be the case in 2021. Also keep an eye out among the subs for towering prop Khamisi McKain, who plays for Duhaney Park Red Sharks in the Jamaican domestic league and is one of the competition’s standout players.