Khamisi McKain hoping Yorkshire public give Jamaica a warm welcome

THERE is bright, autumnal sun shine at Chapeltown Cougars’ ground on Thursday but Jamaica’s Khamisi McKain is still cold.

It is not only because the amateur club just outside Leeds city centre is such a departure from his usual abode in the Caribbean.

“It’s 29 degrees back home – and I think that’s cold, too,” McKain tells The Yorkshire Post.

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He is here, though, to play rugby league which does seem a departure of sorts; Jamaica is hardly renowned as one of the sport’s hotbeds.

When it comes to their sport, a certain Usain Bolt normally springs to mind, or some snarling cricketing fast bowler.

“I have met him,” adds McKain.

“He’s very chilled. He’s not into rugby – more football and his track and field – but he is a very chilled person and very down to earth. What you see is what you get with Usain.”

Nevertheless, although the legendary sprinter might not be hooked yet, plenty of people in Jamaica are beginning to see rugby league’s appeal.

The hope is that those numbers will swell, especially given they have qualified for the World Cup for the first time, appearing at the next tournament held here in 2021.

As part of their preparations for that, the Reggae Warriors are playing England Knights at Emerald Headingley tomorrow, hence McKain’s presence in Leeds.

Admittedly, the squad is largely made up of British-based players such as Wakefield Trinity winger Ben Jones-Bishop and Huddersfield Giants’ new signing Ashton Golding plus others from the Championship and League 1

But McKain is one of two Jamaicans – Jenson Morris, a team-mate at Kingston-based Duhaney Park Red Sharks, is the other –who have flown over from their country’s domestic competition.

Come 2021, the plan is to have at least five players from that league in the World Cup squad – and a whole lot more people from the UK’s Jamaican population on hand supporting them.

“We have it in high schools and colleges – you can get scholarships now in rugby league – and we have eight or nine clubs that play national club championship,” explained McKain.

“My team – the Duhaney Park Red Sharks – have been champions for the past five years.

“It’s really good. It’s growing. We are getting it on the sports news a lot and I think in the coming months, especially with this game on Sunday on the horizon, it should be getting a lot more profile on the TVs and radio.

“For our Grand Finals in Jamaica we had full stands of people watching and it should be getting bigger as we go along especially getting closer to the 2021 World Cup.”

McKain made his Test debut in 2011, just two years after the country played its first-ever full international game.

Did he ever think back then that they would come this far?

“Anything I do, I believe that I can get to the top of it,” said the player, who is likely to play loose forward or prop tomorrow.

“The team that we have now they are of the same mindset; that we can beat anybody as long as we have that belief.

“But I’m super happy to be a part of something like this now when I can see we’re moving up the rankings as a very small country.

“It makes me really, really proud to be a part of what we’re doing here.

“When we qualified for the World Cup last year I had tears of joy. It was a wonderful feeling.

“People thought it might not be possible without non-domestic players but we beat them (USA) with almost a full domestic team.

“That made me proud to know we can do it at whatever level.”

He has enjoyed his week in camp and added: “It’s my first time to England.

“The team-mates are really understanding of the fact that we play differently in Jamaica.

“It’s just getting the plays. It’s not that difficult getting the plays but understanding them as they speak a little bit faster than we speak.

“But it’s been good and the training sessions have been really, really good.

“It’s been enjoyable coming down and training with the kids here at Chapeltown Cougars.

“Hopefully we can get them involved and show them what rugby league is all about. That’s what we’re here for.

“And I’d tell everyone to come down and watch this game. It should be exciting. It will be hard against the Knights but having seen what we have here it will be no walkover.”

There will not be much time afterwards for McKain to enjoy the delights of Yorkshire, though.

“Work gave me a few days off to come over but I’ll be back home working Monday,” he added.

“I’m in telecommunications as a field engineer in Kingston. I work on the road and up the towers themselves, so any problems I’ll be out there fixing the issue.

“It’s hard work – but rugby’s more difficult!”

Meanwhile, Jamaica prop Ross Peltier will play tomorrow having left hometown Bradford Bulls – in yet another financial crisis – to drop down a level and sign for Doncaster in League 1.