Axemen Fall to Kings in a Close Championship
Disappointment for the 121 Financial Credit Union Jacksonville Axemen as they tasted defeat for the first time since 2017 in the USA Rugby League (USARL) national championship decider Saturday in New York.
In a tight defensive-oriented struggle, Jacksonville relinquished its national title being edged 12-6 by the Brooklyn Kings at Aviator Sports & Events Center in Brooklyn. Two tries to one was the final tally.
In a total reversal of the 2018 title game between these same two teams, a match Jacksonville won by 40 points, head coach Sean Rutgerson said the Axemen just didn’t do enough to win. “They didn’t do anything fancy, they just played football and we defended well,” he said. “We ran hard and there were heaps of good tackles. It was a real tough grind and a tight game, and I think it was good for people to watch.”
The Axemen were actually first to get the ball over the line in the opening minutes of the game, but the try was disallowed. From there, the Kings got on the front foot and strung together unbroken possession which led to their first try by center Brandon Anderson. The attempted conversion was wide, leaving the score at 4-0 to Brooklyn at around the 10-minute mark.
The match, which turned into an entertaining spectacle for the fans, produced some enterprising play by both teams on both sides of the ball but it was the homeside that was next to score when halfback Matt Brewer dotted down. He converted his own try to extend Brooklyn’s lead to 10-0 through the end of the first quarter.
Sensing that they needed to be the next team to put points on the board before the margin got any wider, the Axemen lifted their intensity and were rewarded just before the halftime break with a try to backrower Jye Montgomery. Hooker and goal kicker Nathan Richter did what he has done all season long and added the extras to close the gap to 10-6. As time expired to end the first half, that’s how the teams went into the main intermission.
The second forty was much the same as the first with both teams making multiple line breaks but each was unable to capitalize due to some big hits and punishing defense that thrilled the crowd. Jacksonville forward Khaliq Webb, who had pummeled defenses throughout the season, was himself dumped onto the turf in no uncertain terms in a display of strong tackling by the Kings.
As has been the case lately, Jacksonville’s game Saturday again was marred by penalties from the play-the-ball and markers not squaring up, and unfortunately for them, one of those infringements gifted another two points to Brooklyn goal kicker Brewer, who stretched the Kings’ lead to 12-6 by the midway point of the half.
Realizing that their title was starting to slip away, the Axemen turned things up another notch in an effort to even things, but in doing so, dropped the ball on numerous occasions much to their own frustration. And on top of that, they were caught with the ball on the last tackle of their sets five or six
“Right at the end we still had an opportunity to win but they defended it and full credit to them,” continued coach Rutgerson. There was no more scoring by the time the final whistle blew, and the Brooklyn Kings were crowned the 2019 USARL national champions.
Magnanimous in defeat, Jacksonville’s co-owner Drew Slover and coach Rutgerson both congratulated the Kings on their well-earned victory.
“They did enough to win. They kept it really simple and basically hung onto the ball,” added Rutgerson. “Obviously congratulations to them. They deserved the win because they played better.”
From their standpoint, the Kings were able to execute a successful game plan which largely focused on their defense, something they have done from the start of the season.
In his final game stateside before returning to Australia, Brooklyn head coach Brent Richardson admitted their success tastes sweet. “A lot of blokes have put in a lot of effort for a long time, so it feels good,” he said. “Every year we’ve gotten one step closer and this was the next step, so everyone is pretty happy about it.”
Co-Owner and general manager Drew Slover is immediately focused on next season. “We congratulate the Kings on their first championship win and as the Axemen always do, we look onward to how we make the next season even better. 2020 will be the 15th season for our proud club, and with the Championship game back in the south next year we have every intention of getting that trophy back in front of our home town fans.”