Jacksonville Axemen Rugby League

Axemen Hold Off Mayhem for Gritty Win

By Brian Lowe

The Axemen have opened their 2018 account with a hard-fought 38-24 win against a tough Tampa Mayhem side on the opening day of the new USARL national clubs competition.

On the road to start the new season, the Axemen scored first en route to their six-try haul but had to hold off a fast-finishing Mayhem.

And as was the case in their only preseason hitout, Australian hooker Lachlan Bristow was on the money with his boot, converting all of the tries.

“It’s always good to get off to a winning start, especially when you’re away from home,” said Axemen head coach Sean Rutgerson.

Jacksonville scored first through second-rower Desta Bailey and with a Bristow conversion they took a 6-0 lead after the first drinks break about 20 minutes in.

The Axemen then built on that lead with a try by fullback Will Fletcher, converted by Bristow, before Tampa crossed for their first try when former Axemen player Bart Longchamp dotted down. Halfback and goalkicker Will Monnery converted and the Mayhem closed the gap to 12-6.

Stung by that score, the Axemen hit right back when Bristow scored a try and converted his own score to make it 18-6.

That was quickly followed by another Jacksonville score, this time by five-eighth Montana Northcroft, and Bristow’s conversion extended the lead to 24-6 as the match reached halftime.

The second half opened the way the first 40 had closed with Jacksonville scoring first through winger David Washington and with another successful Bristow conversion the scoreline pushed out to 30-6 with Jacksonville appearing to be in control.

However, Tampa, who had dropped a lot of ball in the first half, stepped up the tempo of their game and started to retain more possession which paid dividends when fullback Joel Armstrong crossed the white line for their second try. Monnery added the extras to close the gap to 30-12 with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.

Then, as the clock crept up on the 70th minute, Monnery scored a try of his own and converted that score to make it 30-18 and it was game on.

But just when Tampa looked to be getting an edge they gave away a penalty that Bristow slotted to increase the lead to 32-18.

Unperturbed, the home team kept up the pressure and forced a turnover, which winger Jon St John was able to turn into a four-pointer. Another Monnery conversion got the Mayhem to within striking distance trailing 32-24.

However, that was as close as Tampa would get.

As time was winding down, Axemen center David Thomas put paid to any chance Tampa might have had of staging a late comeback when he iced the game with a late try. It was converted by money man Bristow to close out the scoring at 38-24.

“We defended okay, but there were some patches when we were pretty soft and Tampa did a few good things when they started hanging onto the ball,” added coach Rutgerson.

“With the ball we went okay at the start. We had good ball control and did what we needed to do and that’s why we were ahead at halftime.”

From Tampa’s standpoint, the first half was marred by knock-ons, mistakes and an inability to complete sets, but they rectified that in the second stanza and were much more competitive.

It was the first game for USA Hawk David Ulch filling the dual roles of player/coach and he says while the Mayhem need to work on their defensive fitness so they get back in the line and mark up, they didn’t back down.

“That first half was probably one of the hardest hitting halves I’ve played because we were hitting each other hard.

“You could hear it all across the field. It was pretty fun stuff to be able to get into it like that.”

Jacksonville’s next game is against the Rhinos in Atlanta on Saturday, June 16.

Photo: Allene Rachal