Jamaica made history with their first-ever win over USA, 16-10, bringing them the 2018 Americas Championship and automatic qualification for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England, the eleventh nation to book their place.
The Reggae Warriors’ heroic, stoic, goal line defence - particularly in a scoreless second half - saw them become the inaugural Caribbean nation to make a World Cup, sparking wild celebrations as the final whistle went at the Hodges Stadium, University of North Florida, Jacksonville.
“We handled them better than they did us,” said euphoric Jamaica head coach Romeo Monteith, mobbed by his players.
“We capitalised on their poor discipline, we had a plan and it worked. At half time we said we needed to maintain our focus, we saw off what they threw at us and held our nerve.”
Monteith added: “This is massive for the Jamaican nation, to reach a World Cup is something extra special, it feels like there is one love.”
He sprang a surprise by playing Leeds Rhinos full back Ashton Golding at hooker from the start and although Golding suffered a neck injury during the second half, bravely playing on, his running and distribution out of dummy half was key.
Magnificently supported by the tireless plunges of Lamont Bryan, backed up by Ross Peltier, midfield guile of Joel Farrell and threat of Ben Jones-Bishop from the back, the visitors were 16 points up after half an hour and look set for victory.
But two tries in four minutes at the end of the opening period brought the home crowd to their feet, the second half becoming a monumental slug-fest, ended only when Ryan Burrows was held out by the swarming Jamaican cover defence on a power play in the 79th minute.
Jamaica found touch from the initial kick off, Jy-Mel Coleman’s kicking excellent throughout, and made the most of three penalties in the opening ten minutes.
Coleman kicked one after Haveatama Luani had gone high, Cory Makelim producing a superb tackle to deny Aaron Jones-Bishop after a Keenan Tomlinson ball steal.
Another late shot by Luani saw Coleman double the lead and, on the back of a double penalty after dissent, on a last tackle play, Golding shot out of dummy half and James Woodburn-Hall, called into the side for Danny Thomas, slipped the ball in to Farrell who went over; Coleman adding the extras.
The Hawks sent the re-start out on the full, Coleman missing the penalty from half way and on their first concerted attack, Luani’s grubber forced a drop out.
Skipper Mark Offerdahl, as he did throughout sucked the defence in, but Jerome Veve’s kick was too long and, with the pressure released, Farrell and Peltier made significant ground on the back of another penalty, Farrell’s pass out wide along the ground gathered by Jacob Ogden, a late call up, and he grounded in the corner.
Coleman converted from the touch line, but few would have thought that would be the end of the Jamaican scoring.
Farrell again prompted but his grubber to the in goal was long and USA finished the opening forty on top.
Bureta Faraimo’s last tackle kick ricocheted back to him and he fed Connor Donehue who twisted over through two tackles, Faraimo converting.
Danny Howard then sent Makelim through a gap, Offerdahl charged and, on the last tackle, Luani’s kick was fed on to Burroughs who stepped over in the corner, Faraimo’s conversion attempt hitting a post.
Makelim has held up over the line at the start of the second period and Mo Agoro was stopped a metre out in response.
Luani’s swinging arm brought another penalty but Coleman was wide with the shot at goal, Luani forcing a drop out from which Donehue was just denied when going solo.
Golding’s offload teased Ben Jones-Bishop into space, Woodburn-Hall forcing a drop out, Chris Wiggins releasing the pressure as the tension mounted.
David Washington’s runs were increasingly telling and a Luani chip just went over the winger’s fingers.
With seven minutes remaining, Coleman had a field goal attempt blocked, Burroughs knocked on and the ball was shipped to Ogden who was superbly bundled into touch by Jamil Robinson, who made a huge impact for the Hawks off the bench.
In the closing stages, Jamaica were caught accidently offside from a kick in their own quarter, Kristian Freed knocking on, Bryan doing likewise as fatigue set in to give Jamaica a final set to defend.
Offerdahl and Faraimo powered forward and, on the last, Donehue tried to get Burrows over out wide but the green wall stood firm.
Distraught USA head coach Sean Rutgerson commented: “Our discipline was awful and let us down badly.
“We got back in the game by half time when we stopped giving penalties away. They ran down the clock at scrums and drop outs and made it difficult to build any pressure.
“We’ve made it very hard for ourselves now.”
The USA now enter a repecharge world group in late 2019 in an effort to pick up one of the remaining qualifying places in 2021.
Cory Makelim, Ryan Burroughs, Brandon Anderson, Bureta Faraimo, David Washington, Danny Howard, Connor Donehue, Mark Offerdahl, Kristian Freed, Andrew Kneisly, Joe Eichner, Jerome Veve, Haveatama Luani
Substitutes: Jamil Robinson, Nick Newlin, Kyle Denham, Chris Wiggins
Tries: Donehue (35), Burroughs (38),
Goal: Faraimo 1/2
Ashton Golding, Aaron Jones-Bishop, Ben Jones-Bishop, Joseph Brown, Alex Brown, James Woodburn-Hall, Jy-Mel Coleman, Jonathan Magrin, Lamont Bryan, Omari Caro, Mo Agoro, Joel Farrell, Keenen Tomlinson
Substitutes: Renaldo Wade, Ross Peltier, Jacob Ogden Khamisi McKain
Tries: Farrell (21), Ogden (29)
Goals: Coleman 4/6
Referee: Ben Thaler (England)
Penalty count: 7-12
Half time: 10-16
Man of the Match: USA – Corey Makelim JAMAICA - Ashton Golding
Scoring sequence: 0-2, 0-4, 0-10, 0-16, 6-16, 10-16