The Jacksonville Axemen fell to the Philadelphia Fight by a score of 30 to 18 in the National Championship this past weekend, but they set a record for the overall event crowd and achieved many firsts during the day.
The Curtain Raiser game between the New Zealand Blue Thunder and the Presidents Barbarians (a team compiled of overseas players from the USA domestic competition) was a great opener for the day. The early crowd was treated to a HAKA to get the game underway, and a great 80 minutes of Rugby League followed, with New Zealanders wining the game by a score of 50 to 12. The game was a fantastic way for the USA teams, who had hosted overseas players for the season, to say farewell to their “imports” as they return to their home nations this week. It also allowed a direct interest from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the United Kingdom.
By the time the main game was ready to go, a large number of vendors had set up to provide extra interaction and entertainment for the fans. The Jacksonville Jaguars had a promotional ticket booth on site offering great deals on season tickets, Kill Cliff Sports Recovery Drink had a booth for fans to sample their product, and the JaxArrest.com Axe Maidens were welcoming the fans and distributing game day programs and sample items from various sponsors. And as always a great number of fans had gathered at the concession and merchandise booths to get cold Bud Light and special event T-shirts. Sponsors and VIP guests were treated to complimentary food that included a carving station, beer and wine, and their own special seating section on the halfway line.
Then at 7pm, in front of almost 3000 fans the production crew started the LIVE TV Broadcast, Joy Dennis opened the event with a live performance of the USA Anthem, a ceremonial HAKA was performed by the visiting New Zealand team, and the game got underway.
This was the largest ever crowd for a Rugby League National Championship in the USA, and the first time it had ever been televised LIVE. The overall event raised the bar for the entire USA Rugby League moving forward. USA Rugby League president Peter Illfield commented, “For the Championship Final, congratulations and thanks are in order to the Southeastern Rugby League (SERL) and its clubs, specifically the Jacksonville Axemen who hosted last weekend’s Final. In a first for Rugby League in the USA, the Championship was broadcast live to local television with the USARL’s Director for PR and Communications, Steve Williams assisting with commentating. The facilities and amenities assembled at the University of North Florida provided an exceptional experience for fans, supporters and officials alike. To Jacksonville’s Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland, Drew Slover and their team, a big thank you is extended to those involved in setting up and making the day a success from an attendees, spectators and participants perspective.”
The Axemen will have copy of the broadcast uploaded to an internet based viewing platform very soon, and again we extend out thanks to the fans of the Axemen and the City of Jacksonville, for showing the world that the BEST and biggest concentration of Rugby League fans in the USA live right here in Northeast Florida, and that is without any doubt a continually proven fact.
A great number of Photos from the event have been posted by various media and fans at the Axemen Facebook Page – www.facebook.com/JaxAxemen