Axemen Stop Rhinos in High-Scoring Thriller
By Brian Lowe
It was as advertised. SOUTH Conference rivals Jacksonville Axemen and Atlanta Rhinos played out a high-scoring and entertaining game of rugby league Saturday at Atlanta’s Silverback Stadium. In a thrill-a-minute contest in which the lead changed hands several times, Jacksonville eventually ran out 52-36 winners in this Round 2 matchup.
“They kept hanging in there kind of like their grand final win and it took a lot for us to get over the top of them,” says Axemen head coach Sean Rutgerson.
As the mercury hit the mid to high 90s, the Axemen opened the scoring when five-eighth Steven Hill found a hole in the Rhinos’ defensive line to crash over for a try. Goal kicker Lachlan Bristow, who moved to halfback for this game, converted for an early 6-0 lead.
The Rhinos answered right back though just two minutes later with a converted try of their own to draw level at 6-6. Within five minutes, Jacksonville got their noses in front again when second-rower Jed Pearce scored the first of his three tries on the day. The conversion attempt missed and then the home team struck back to hit the front at 12-10, albeit temporarily.
Just after the first half water break, the lead changed again when Axemen winger David Washington went in for a try and a Bristow conversion made it 16-12 Jacksonville. Minutes later, Axemen hooker Kyle Grinold dove over the line for the visitors’ fourth try leaving Bristow with a easy kick and a 22-12 scoreline.
However, Atlanta was determined not to let the gap increase any further before the main intermission and got one back to trail 22-18 as the halftime whistle blew.
When the game resumed in the second half, again it was Jacksonville that scored first when winger Washington crossed for his brace. Bristow added the extras to push the scoreline out to 28-18. The visitors increased their lead when left center Tyler McClain scored and the Bristow conversion made it a 34-18 ballgame.
But as was the case in the first forty, the Rhinos came storming back to get a try of their own, this one coming from an Axemen knock-on, to close the gap to 34-24. As the match entered the final quarter following the second half water break, it was Jacksonville that looked to put the game out of reach when Pearce scored again. Bristow, who has only missed the one conversion attempt so far this season, was spot on to make it 40-24.
Rugby League is a game that ebbs and flows, as evidenced by this contest, and Atlanta got themselves back in contention with a converted try, their second of the half, to trail 40-30. Then inside the last ten minutes the Rhinos stepped things up yet again to score another converted try to get back to 40-36 and it was anyone’s game.
However, as if to say anything you can do we can do better, the Axemen’s Pearce got his third try, converted by Bristow, to push the score out to 46-36 with precious few minutes left on the clock. Then with time nearly up, Jacksonville iced the game when McClain went in for his second try and the extras by Bristow made the final score 52-36.
“It’s a big trip and to get the win against that team at home, like they got us at home and away last year, it’s a bit of payback and it’s a good feeling,” added coach Rutgerson.
For the Rhinos, halfback Sam Cowley led the way by notching a hat-trick of tries, while Irving Carcamo scored a pair and player/coach Joe Cowley got the other try. He also converted all six Atlanta scores. The hard-hitting affair in the heat took its toll on both teams and in Atlanta’s case three players, including a second-rower, center and their captain Nick Newlin, left the game with injuries.
“We tried some guys in new positions in the pack to see if we could counter their big guys a little bit,” said Newlin. “I don’t want to say it backfired, but it didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped. I think it was a good measuring stick for us as to where we need to be. We may be the defending champs, but we kind of know based on the roster Jacksonville has that they may be the team to beat in the South.”
The result sees the Axemen move to the top of the SOUTH Conference standings with a 2-0 record. In the other SOUTH Conference Round 2match, the Tampa Mayhem downed the Copperheads 52-22 after leading 24-16 at halftime.
The Axemen will return home on June 30th and will host the South Florida Copperheads. Kick off is 6pm at the UNF Soccer field.