Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your rugby journey?

My name is Jy-mel Coleman. I will turn 34 during the Rugby League World Cup. I was born in Leeds and have two children (Savanna and Cooper) with my partner Chloe. I was also born into a rugby family as both my dad and my brother played. From the age of about 5 my weekend played out like this:

On Saturdays I would watch my dad play for Queens RLFC. After the game myself and all the other kids would play on the field outside the clubhouse while the adults socialised. On Sundays, I would watch my brother play then go back to the clubhouse to play with my teammates and my brother’s teammates. It was great and I loved it.

At 6 I started playing myself and the rest is history. I loved playing rugby and being with my mates all weekend. I could not get enough of it. As I grew up, rugby and sport in general opened a lot of doors for me. It allowed me to make many friendships and travel across the world to many different countries - from going to New Zealand and Australia while at school to playing in Australia in 2008 at the Student World Cup while I studied at Leeds Met University. 

I first played for Jamaica in the 2011 Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers in Philadelphia. We beat South Africa but then lost to the USA, who gained the last spot at the World Cup. I had just signed for Keighley Cougars and was having a good season. One of my teammates played for Jamaica so I sorted out my paperwork out to prove my eligibility and joined the team after that.

I have encountered the highs and lows of the sport. My biggest achievements are qualifying for this Rugby League World Cup with Jamaica for the first time after a few failed efforts and gaining promotion to the Championship with Keighley Cougars in 2011. The lows of the game are the countless injuries and operations which massively affect your mental state.

I am currently not attached to a club after taking time out to get my body right for the World Cup, but I have been training with Keighley Cougars to get ready for it.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

I tried showing an insight into team life and a lot of what fans do not see. I wanted to show my story from my beginnings to success in the game and bringing on the next generation.

In the mid-season International break this year, we had a training camp. As always, there are lots of laughs as well as hard work when the Jamaica boys are together. We put in the hard work and do all we can do to be the best versions of ourselves, ready to make an impression come game time in October. This is the part that the fans do not often see. Even after the tough work we do, we still have time to be happy and for the boys to crack jokes. Our group is really close.

I showed our Head Coach Jermaine Coleman breaking down technical details. The team was practicing shapes and structures and building combinations through repetition. Making sure we all know what we are doing and more importantly, why!

You can also see conditioner Pottsy doing sprint work with some of the boys who needed it like Jordan Andrade and James Woodburn Hall. Notice I am not in there!

After the World Cup was pushed back a year and preparations were disrupted, some of the players who lived close enough would meet up to do extra sessions – they were tough sessions, but we put the work in and enjoyed spending the time together. We do not get lots of time together as a group so when we do, we really have to make the most of it.

I also wanted to show the staff who make everything work behind the scenes, from physios, conditioners to main sponsors such as Levi Roots. He came and fed the boys during our mid-season camp. To have someone there and buy in as much as Levi is special. He is a very passionate person and has time for everyone. 

Levi is a big supporter of Jamaica Rugby League. He is a man who all our group will be tell you can give one hell of a motivational team talk. One team, one dream. Black, yellow, and green.

Are there any places in the photos that mean a lot to you?

As a young boy the Archie Gordon Ground in Kirkstall, Leeds was like Wembley to me. I always wanted to play there and never did. I grew up watching my brother play on this pitch as his home ground. I remember running the kicking cone on for his team and taking water on, anything I could do to help. I wanted to be just like him, he was a massive inspiration for me and still is. Now I see clearly how uneven the surface was. It is just a pitch in the middle of a park in Leeds, but the memories I have from there with my dad watching my brother are priceless. This is where my love of rugby really started.

Another place with great childhood memories is the former Farmfoods car park (now a building site) in Kirkstall in Leeds. This used to be a big car park for a supermarket and was opposite Milford Marlins, one of my childhood clubs. The car park was barely used and was just a big flat concrete surface, perfect for hours and hours of touch and pass. From the age of about 8, I would play a rugby game on a Sunday morning, go back to the club for a hot dog and drinks, and then me and all the lads from my age group went straight over to the car park to play. Many great friendships were formed here, and many great players did this, including James Brown at Batley Bulldogs and my current Jamaica teammate Ben Jones Bishop.

Cougar Park is the home of the Keighley Cougars, the team where I had the most success in my career and learnt the most about myself. I was challenged on and off the pitch to become a better version of myself. In 2011 we gained promotion to the Championship under the guidance of current South Sydney head coach Jason Demitriou.

What does rugby league and playing for Jamaica mean to you? 

Rugby league has been a massive part of my life from a young age with my dad and brother. Playing for my country is amazing and shows my kids that anything you want to do is achievable through hard work, sacrifices, and dedication.

My two kids are why I do everything. Savanna (7) and Cooper (3) have both started playing rugby at our local club Keighley Albion. On a cold wet Saturday morning we were at rugby, and they were in their Jamaica hoodies, representing their heritage. I am very proud of my Jamaican heritage, and I know they are too. I have not pushed them into rugby but growing up they have seen me do it and say they want to be like me, which is nice to hear. My whole aim of this World Cup is to make them proud of seeing their dad representing Jamaica.

What role does rugby league play in your community and country?

Rugby League is back on the rise in my community. Keighley Cougars just went through the whole 2022 season unbeaten and there is a buzz around the place. The club is doing lots to engage in the community and this includes my children’s team Keighley Albion. 

Recently my daughter played a game at Cougar Park before the first team. She has seen photos of me playing there in previous years and loves to talk about it. She was so excited that she was going to get to play where I used to play, and I was so proud of her doing it. She is one of only two girls on the team with the rest being boys and she holds her own!

She loved it and we stayed to watch the first team match. After the main game my daughter ran on the pitch to get a picture with Mo Agoro who plays for Jamaica. That is what rugby is about.

What do you think the future looks like for rugby league after the RLWC? What would you like to change? 

Rugby league needs a massive freshen up from the top. The game in England needs to gain lots more exposure through better marketing. More money needs to be put into the game and a bigger effort needs to be made to make our players bigger household names.

What ambitions do you have for the future?

My career is nearly over from a playing point of view, and I would like to coach in the future. I have always thought about the game in great detail and wish to challenge myself doing that!

This World Cup may well be my last games, as I am considering retiring after it. As I have got older and had children, I have started reflecting on my career and thinking what I want to take from the game. 

The one big thing that is now always in my mind is for my family, especially my children, to be proud of me and what I have achieved. I want to be the best role model I can be for them. Thinking of walking out onto the pitches at the World Cup with my children and singing the Jamaican national anthem makes me very emotional.

Here’s to me making people proud. Out of Many, One People!

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