USARL 2022 season launched with Naples Nines tournament

USARL 2022 season launched with Naples Nines tournament

Photo: Darryl A. Wells

The USARL 2022 season kicked off with a bang on Saturday with the inaugural Naples Nines tournament in Florida. The event was hosted at the Paradise Coast Sports Complex, a recently opened $100 million joint venture between Collier County and Sports Facilities Companies.

For this event a major goal was planting seeds in the Southwest Florida area. USARL exiles coach Colin O’Dell was featured in an interview on local broadcast TV channel ABC7 SWFL. Simultaneously, the event was promoted on social media targeting the Naples area.

The action kicked off at 8am and 20 rounds played out until nearly 7pm, narrated throughout by the Tampa Mayhem’s entertaining announcer Brian Rogoski.

The tournament bracket was structured as two 4-team pools for the men’s competition, with a single 3-team pool comprising the women’s competition. The tournament rules stipulated that advancement to semifinals and then finals would be based on ladder points (2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw), then on total margin of victory, then if a tie still remained, a coin toss would be performed.

Photo: @meralkatphotography

In the women’s pool, ROOTS Rugby beat Jacksonville 10-8, Jacksonville beat the Carolina Storm 14-10, and the Carolina Storm prevailed over ROOTS Rugby 18-12. This meant that each of the 3 teams had gained 2 tournament points. What’s more, Jacksonville and Carolina each had the same margin of victory. Astonished-looking tournament organizer Curtis Goddard found himself calling the two team captains to the field for a coin toss. Jacksonville won the toss and a ticket straight to the final.

Photo: Darryl A. Wells

Men’s pool B was hotly contested but the Jamaica Exodus were the clear winners followed by the ROOTS Rugby men’s team, edging out tournament hosts the Copperheads and a South Florida Speed team that delivered some flashy entertaining plays but ultimately failed to notch up victories.

In Men’s pool A, the competition was razor close. The Tampa Mayhem made a brave showing but surrendered their ladder points to the Jamaica Hurricanes, Jacksonville Axemen, and USARL Exiles, each of which had notched 4 ladder points during pool play. Again the margins of victory had to be counted, and they were so close it was feared there would be a second coin toss. After a bit of confusion, the referees were consulted for their official tallies. When the smoke cleared, a disappointed Jamaica Hurricanes team, who had been at the field and ready for battle, had to be informed that they had been just edged out. The Axemen and the Exiles would be heading to the semifinals.

The women’s semifinal (2 vs 3 play-in) was an intense contest, the ROOTS Rugby women leading 6-4 at halftime. Both teams were formidable again in the second half but ultimately the Storm prevailed 14-6 to face the Jacksonville ladies in the final.

In the first men’s semifinal, the Exiles came on strong, holding ROOTS Rugby scoreless to their own 8 points at the half. The second half was much scruffier, this time nearly staying scoreless for both sides. The ROOTS Rugby team successfully scored off a risky kick play at the buzzer to gain 6 points, but it wasn’t enough and the Exiles proceeded to the final.

The second men’s semifinal was one of the more surprising of the day. With strong players on both teams, the action was fearsome, but the Jamaica Exodus ultimately notched up 26 points and held the Axemen scoreless, a rare event for one of USA Rugby League’s strongest teams.

Photo: @meralkatphotography

The women’s final was a battle of two champion teams. Strong and skillful play was exhibited by both sides, and at the half it seemed either might emerge victorious with the scoreboard at Storm 10 to Jacksonville 4. But only Carolina scored in the second half, winning the trophy with a final tally of 16 to 4.

In the men’s final the Exiles again started out of the gate first, racking up 10 points, before the Jamaica Exodus responded with 6 of their own. The second half was intense, each team probing to break through the other’s line while the Jamaica Hurricanes team chanted and sang their support from the bleachers. But despite the sound and fury, the scoreboard didn’t change, leaving an Exhilarated Exiles team clutching the golden cup.

Overall the event can only be regarded as a success. “I was pleased by how well the tournament went,” said Goddard. “The games played out close to the schedule we had laid out. This ultimately speaks to the organizational work that went in ahead of time between stakeholders to make this happen, and the hard work of a team of volunteers on the day. It was also special to have Penny Taylor, the county commissioner who was instrumental in getting Paradise Coast Sports Complex built, out at the event as one of the trophy presenters.”

“ROOTS Rugby Family had a great time at the Naples 9s,” reported the previous 9s champions. “We loved the variety of strong competition. It gave our players a good test to show what they can do before we choose our roster to head to the London 9s. We look forward to returning to the tournament and hoisting up that trophy!”

“South Florida will definitely be back,” agreed the Speed’s Ryan Forston. “We loved the venue and the atmosphere. Hopefully we’ll see more Caribbean and other international teams come to Florida to compete.”

We hope so as well!

Photo: @meralkatphotography