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Jamaica aim to emulate Tonga

Rugby League will have another Tonga on its hands if Jamaica can qualify for the 2021 World Cup

28 Sep 2018

Jamaica aim to emulate Tonga

Rugby League will have another Tonga on its hands if Jamaica can qualify for the 2021 World Cup

Rugby League will have another Tonga on its hands if Jamaica can qualify for the 2021 World Cup, according to Reggae Warriors captain Joe Brown.

With 800,000 people of Jamaican origin estimated to be currently living in the UK, the Newcastle Thunder star says rugby league can reach corners of Britain it would otherwise have little presence on the back of a Jamaican RLWC campaign.

By comparison, 40,700 people of Tongan backgrounds are estimated to live in New Zealand - yet the Mate Ma’a were a sensation that transcended the sport when they played the majority of their 2017 World Cup games in the Shaky Isles and made it to the quarter-finals. Their upcoming Auckland Test against Australia is sold out.

Brown says some Super League stars might even chose Jamaica over major nations, as Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita did for Tonga, if the Reggae Warriors can get through November’s Americas qualifiers against the United States, Canada and Chile.

“It would be a massive thing,” Brown, who has been representing his father’s homeland since 2004 when a combined West Indies team was formed, said.
“Honestly, I think we’d have that effect that Tonga had.
“Jamaica is part of the British culture now. It would be a real big, keen market that rugby league could tap into if we get there. It could open a few more doors the rugby league maybe haven’t opened yet.
“I think the population is looking for a team. Usain Bolt did massive things for Jamaica as a country, you know. He put Jamaica on the map. People who’d never heard of Jamaica, they’d heard of Usain Bolt.
“If they saw our team on the TV, it’d be awesome. There’s so much we could do for Jamaica as a country if we made that World Cup.”

Experienced Super League campaigner Ben Jones-Bishop of Wakefield will make his Jamaica bow in Florida, joining Leeds Ashton Golding. But a World Cup debut would act as a lightning rod for other eligible players, says Brown.

“There’s a few lads like myself in the current teams who wouldn’t be still playing in that World Cup but being able to say we got Jamaica  to that World Cup, no-one would be able to take that away from us,” he continued.
“You’d even get England fans supporting us because we’re something different, something unique. We’d light up the competition with our personalities and the way we play.
“It takes a few people to stand up for us to be noticed. If we got to that World Cup time, you never know what kids coming through might pick the option of playing for Jamaica instead of England. 
“They’re going to think ‘actually, I want to play for Jamaica’. That’s the pathway I want to set for those lads, like Tonga did.”

Brown is currently running a Just Giving page to help get players to Florida for the play-offs, which will be played between November 11 and 17 at Hodges Stadium, Jacksonville.

The squad will be a combination of those based in Europe and domestic players.

“No matter what money you get in your life, it won’t match the experience of playing for your country,” Brown says.

Steve Mascord

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