The majority of the rugby league world has switched hibernation mode on, drawn the curtains and taking a breath ahead of it all starting again in a few months’ time – but thousands of miles away in a small corner of Florida, there’s arguably one of the most important international games in years taking place this weekend.
Jamaica’s rugby league side only started playing competitive games nine years ago, yet victory on Saturday against the United States would ensure qualification for the World Cup for the very first time. It is a remarkable story – made all the more remarkable by the fact that, given their lowly world ranking, Jamaica receive minimal funding from the Rugby League International Federation to grow the game on the island.
Therefore, each and every one of the players who pulls on the yellow and green shirt this weekend will have self-funded their trip to Jacksonville to ensure the Reggae Warriors create history. For long-serving forward Ross Peltier, it was a decision he did not have to think twice about.
“As soon as I heard that we’d have to be self-funding our trip, it wasn’t a problem,” the Bradford prop reveals. “I spoke with the rest of the lads and they said the same. Guys like Joel Farrell were getting offered match fees to play for Scotland, but still chose to do this trip with us. It shows the journey we’re on as a group and where we think this can go.”
This autumn, Jamaica have an encouraging blend of homegrown talent from the domestic leagues, mixed with a serious sprinkling of top-line British talent. Peltier, who wins his ninth cap on Saturday, has been there since the start – but this year, Super League stars such as Ashton Golding and Ben Jones-Bishop have signed up to the cause too.
Peltier, a born-and-bred Bradfordian who has enjoyed success at club level this year, admits it is heartening to see more big names commit to a Jamaican side that are seeking to make great strides in the years ahead.
“It shows the awareness we’re building up as a nation,” he admits. “I’ve been here since I was 17 years old in this group, and we’re finally now at a level where we feel we can push on. Reaching the World Cup for the first time, that would be taking it to the next level. I’ve seen the development in the Jamaican domestic game – and I think all the lads who are in this squad with us now that play in Jamaica could play at League 1 or Championship level with ease.”
With so many Jamaican communities littered across rugby league’s heartlands, let alone the rest of England, Peltier also believes the impact of a Jamaican side making a World Cup for the first time since the football team achieved the feat in 1998 could have an impact on both sides of the world.
“That funding that we’d get for reaching the World Cup would do so much,” Peltier insists. “It would open the door for Test matches to played there for a start, and for us to go into camps in Jamaica and help train the lads up and develop the game.
“They’re doing it off minimum funding at the minute – seriously, next to nothing – and producing excellent talent. The World Cup would make real noises in the communities of Bradford, Huddersfield and Leeds too; there’s lots of Jamaican people in Yorkshire and even down in London, and I think exposing these lads to those communities could help inspire a new generation too.”
Peltier also believes Tests against Celtic nations in England is a mouthwatering prospect that must be considered for Jamaican rugby league, too. “We’d love to play against Ireland, Wales, Scotland.. whoever really,” he says. “We can show the appetite for Jamaican rugby, get a couple of thousand to a ground and really show what we’re about. This group, this nation.. it’s going places and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.”
Jamaica have never beaten the USA in six previous attempts, with the Tomahawks ending the Reggae Warriors’ World Cup hopes in 2013 and 2017. If the result is different this weekend in Jacksonville, expect the international landscape to change forever.