International RL: Jamaica to tackle England Knights in Leeds this autumn

Leeds Rhinos' Harry Newman has been called into the England Knights set-up and could face Jamaica at Headingley in October. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe/JPIMedia
Leeds Rhinos' Harry Newman has been called into the England Knights set-up and could face Jamaica at Headingley in October. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe/JPIMedia
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JAMAICANS taking on England at Headingley ordinarily brings evocative connotations of legendary West Indies bowler Courtney Walsh firing down in front of a vociferous Western Terrace.

However, it will be at the other side of the famous stadium where the two nations meet next and in the unusual guise of rugby league.

England Knights players Kruise Leeming, Cameron Smith, Mikolaj Oledzki and Jack Walker fly the English flag at Headingley.

England Knights players Kruise Leeming, Cameron Smith, Mikolaj Oledzki and Jack Walker fly the English flag at Headingley.

Confirmation that Jamaica – who only played international rugby league for the first time in 2009 – will be facing England Knights there on October 20 is certainly welcome news.

It will be an historic occasion as the sides meet for the first time and a crucial one for both parties as they build up towards the 2021 Rugby League World Cup held here on these shores.

Jamaica, who have Leeds-born rugby legend Jason Robinson as one of their tournament operations directors, made history last autumn by beating USA to secure a first World Cup appearance.

Wakefield Trinity winger Ben Jones-Bishop and Rhinos full-back Ashton Golding are some of the Super League players who have represented the Reggae Warriors and more with Jamaican heritage are now joining the ranks including Huddersfield Giants duo Jordan Turner and Michael Lawrence.

Jamaica players Michael Lawrence, Jordan Turner and Ross Peltier getting ready for action at Headingley

Jamaica players Michael Lawrence, Jordan Turner and Ross Peltier getting ready for action at Headingley

Clearly, the fixture against the Knights – essentially England’s second string – will provide high-quality international experience for their team at one of the host venues for RLWC2021.

However, as it seeks to build its profile in the sport, it will also give a platform for them to connect with the hundreds of thousands of British Jamaicans, the second-largest Jamaican population outside the island itself.

Meanwhile, with Wayne Bennett’s England not in action this year – he takes Great Britain to New Zealand and Papua New Guinea – this Knights fixture should attract a sizeable crowd.

The Knights, of course, were re-established last year as part of the RFL’s England Performance Unit, playing their first two matches since 2013 on a tour to Papua New Guinea last autumn.

RFL rugby director Kevin Sinfield said: “This is a fixture that works on so many levels, and I hope it will capture the imagination of rugby league supporters and Jamaicans in Leeds, Yorkshire and well beyond.

“The Knights are an important part of the EPU as we build towards hosting the World Cup in 2021, and it was a priority to find them meaningful competition again this autumn after the unique experiences they gained in Papua New Guinea last year.

“The way the Jamaica team has developed over the last few years to reach the World Cup has already been a bit of a rugby league fairytale, and it’s great that the Knights can help them with their preparations for RLWC2021.”

Eight members of the first Knights Performance Squad that was announced in May 2018 have already earned promotion to the senior England set-up to make Test debuts.

Plenty more will hope to follow the same route on the back of October’s fixture.

Jamaica coach Jermaine Coleman grew up as a member of Leeds’ Jamaican community and played for Hunslet earlier in his career. He is now London Skolars coach and said: “This is an exciting opportunity for us as team.

“The effort that has gone into the journey so far has been unbelievable. We have a fantastic group of people involved with the team both on and off the field. We see this as our first steps in our preparation to the World Cup.

“The England Knights will be an excellent team full of Super League quality from one to 17 so the step up for us is going to be a challenge. The one thing this group does better than anything is rise to challenges so we can’t wait for this game opportunity.”

Teenage Leeds Rhinos centre Harry Newman is set to earn promotion to Paul Anderson’s revised Knights squad along with Huddersfield Giants prop Olly Wilson when it is named this morning.

The duo were both members of the England Academy squad that defeated the Australian Schoolboys 2-0 in a famous series win last autumn.

Newman, 19, has been a revelation for Leeds this term, scoring eight tries in 16 appearances since making his debut in March.

Huddersfield, meanwhile, paid a significant fee to buy Wilson from Bradford Bulls in April and he made an impressive Super League debut recently.