Jamaica aim to be new Tonga after qualifying for World Cup

It’s the rugby league version of Cool Runnings and has been compared to Tonga’s rapid rise in the international game.

Just nine years after playing their first competitive rugby league match, Jamaica has become the 11th nation to qualify for the 2021 World Cup after beating the United States 16-10 in Jacksonville on Saturday.

Like their countrymen in the famous Jamaican bobsled team, who shocked the world by qualifying for the 1988 Olympic Games and became the subject of the Cool Runnings movie, the Reggae Warriors had to overcome the odds just to play in the Americas Championships.

The team, which is made up of players from England as well as Jamaica's domestic competition, had to self-fund their trip to Jacksonville to take on the USA, Canada and Chile, including Super League stars Ashton Golding from Leeds and Wakefield’s Ben Jones-Bishop.

Golding, who was named man of the match against the USA, and Jones-Bishop represented their nation of heritage for the first time at the tournament, while Sheffield Eagles-bound second-rower Joel Farrell turned down a Scotland jersey to play for the Reggae Warriors.

It is now anticipated other eligible Super League players may choose to play for Jamaica over more established league nations, as Tonga’s Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita did at last year’s World Cup.

With a large Jamaican community in Britain, the Reggae Warriors are also expected to be strongly supported at the 2021 World Cup, which will feature 16 nations in four pools of four.

Jamaica join France and Wales in gaining entry to the World Cup through qualifying tournaments, while Australia, England, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Lebanon have automatic entry after advancing to the quarter-finals or beyond in 2017.

After beating Canada 38-8 in their first match of the Americas Championships, the Reggae Warriors stormed to the front early against the Hawks through tries to Farrell and London Broncos rookie Jacob Ogden before defending a 16-10 half-time lead in a scoreless second half.

It was the first time Jamaica had beaten the USA in six previous attempts, including qualifying matches for the 2013 and 2017 World Cups.

"This is history, it can't be taken away from us," Reggae Warriors assistant coach Roy Calvert told Caribbean broadcaster Sports Max. "There have been a lot of sacrifices, a lot of hard work. I'm so happy.

"I'm so proud of this group of boys. We've kept this team playing together for the last two years. There have been a lot of financial sacrifices."

The last time Jamaica appeared in a World Cup of any sport was the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France.

The USA, who featured in the 2013 and 2017 World Cups, can still qualify for the 2021 tournament via a repechage competition against teams from the Middle East/Africa and Asia-Pacific.