Game Report: Axemen Win, Women make History in Round 1
The 121 Financial Jacksonville Axemen traveled to Tampa last weekend for the first round of the USARL season since 2019. After a long year off, and a preseason plagued with unexpected schedule changes the team was eager to get back on the field with a familiar opponent and consistent challenge, the Tampa Mayhem.
Before the Axemen took the field however, it was all about the women, in the first ever full 13’s game of rugby league played domestically in the USA. Jacksonville Women’s Rugby League went up against the Tampa Mischief in a match up that was every bit as aggressive a game to what fans are accustomed to with men’s rugby league.
The Tampa Mischief were the first to score, but Jacksonville responded with a try of their own from Mackenzie Dirlam keeping it at 4-4 early in the game. The Mischief scored again before the water break but Jacksonville still had a close hold on the with a score of 8-4. Tampa started to build some momentum before the half, with two more tries widening the lead to 18-4.
The second half of the game was a test of wills with Jacksonville determined to catch up the score with a try by Stacey Nemeth. This narrowed Tampa’s lead to 10 points and the game got a bit chippy with a couple of punches thrown. Getting back on track, the Mischief scored again just before the whistle was blown- and with a good conversion the final score was 24-8.
Even with the loss, Coach Sean Rutgerson was happy with the progress the women have made in their first season. “Their first 13’s game went really good and I am happy with their performance under the conditions. There has been lots of learning and I hope they enjoyed it.”
Next up was the Axemen vs Mayhem for the men’s game. Penalties found the Axemen defending their own try line for much of the first 20 minutes, but Jacksonville scored first with a try from David Washington. Luke Findlay conversion was good and the Axemen lead 6-0. Tampa came back with their own try with no conversion so the Jacksonville maintained the lead.
The 2 point conversion kicks really made a difference in the score during the first half. Tampa scored 2 more tries as did the Axemen (David Washington and Ryan Bannerot), but it was the 6 extra points from Luke Findlay’s conversion kicks that increased the lead to 18-14 at half time.
The Jacksonville Axemen received the ball to start the 2nd half, and Steven “Meaty” Hill made his comeback with a try score and a 22-14 score. Tampa scored again themselves to add 4 more points and narrowed Jacksonville’s lead to 8 points. That was all the Mayhem had left however, and the Axemen dominated the final 20 minutes with 2 tries from James Williams and another try to close out the game by Ryan Bannerot. Luke Findlay was nearly perfect on conversion kicks in his debut full game as an Axemen, only missing one for the day and increasing the final score to 40-18 over the Tampa Mayhem.
Coach Sean Rutgerson was happy with the win, but knows there is a lot of work to do. “In a stop/start first hit out we were unable to get any rhythm going. We made tons of errors, as did Tampa. I am happy we won, especially with 7 players who have never played league before and one who has not played league or union. So we have our work cut out for us but so much potential.”
With next weekend’s game against the Atlanta Rhinos moving to August 7th, the team is planning a scrimmage and fan meet and greet event for Saturday June 19th. Details TBA. The Axemen return to the University of North Florida on June 26th to take on the Copperheads RLFC. Kick off 6pm.