AS he heads back into the heart of the inner-city Leeds communities that helped forge his own glittering career, dual-code former England winger Jason Robinson is looking to put Jamaica “on the rugby league map” – and potentially unearth the next superstar.
Although he is famous for his exploits in the 13-man code and then winning the 2003 World Cup with England’s union side, as well as representing the British Lions, Robinson is deeply proud of his Caribbean heritage.
That is one of the reasons why he accepted the position of joint operations manager after unfancied Jamaica secured a place in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup with a famous win against the United States last autumn.
His father is Jamaican and the Leeds-born 45-year-old is looking forward to helping promote the emerging nation’s league profile as they prepare to play England Knights at Emerald Headingley on Sunday.
The fixture will provide the Reggae Warriors with their stiffest test yet but also offer the side chance to promote itself around the areas where they will feature when it comes to their maiden World Cup in two years’ time.
“We know there’s areas around here – Harehills, Chapletown and places like that – that have real big Jamaican communities,” Robinson told The Yorkshire Post.
“Qualifying was massive for Jamaica and now it is important we improve across the board.
“We’re recruiting more players and just trying to make it as professional as possible while trying to engage at the same time with what is quite a big Jamaican community in the UK as a whole.
“There’s been a bit of a disconnect there, though; when people talk about Jamaica, they think cricket or Usain Bolt and sprinting but we want to put it on the map for rugby league, too.
“We’ve started and we’re doing our best. We had a presence at the (Chapeltown) Carnival in the summer and we have big plans for the next couple of years as we work towards 2021 where we can be really competitive.
“It’s great we’re getting this chance. For me, I’m half Jamaican, half Scottish – and I played for England!
“When you just think back to my own story, coming from Chapeltown and coming from that to go on and do what I did in rugby league and rugby union, I always think how many kids don’t get that opportunity.
“They could do those same amazing things, too, but if you’re trying to raise the standard of elite performers it has to be around the grassroots.
“We want to get more and more kids playing the sport and, for Jamaica, we have the engagement of the Super League clubs and we need that and to get some more investment to help get that performance.”
Jamaica will hold an open training session for schools at Chapeltown Cougars tomorrow in association with Age Partnership and Coco Fuzion 100 – who are providing 2,000 free tickets to under-privileged families from the community so they can experience a matchday live at Headingley.
With help from Leeds Rhinos Foundation, Chapeltown Cougars, Rugby AM and Leeds Rhinos, it is the sort of initiative that Robinson hopes will drum up support.
“We’ve got good people involved and we all have the same vision,” he said. “We’re all proud of our Jamaican heritage and want to make Jamaicans proud not just here but back in Jamaica, too.
“We want to make a difference; we don’t just want to turn up and make up the numbers in 2021. We want results and playing teams like England Knights will help us do that.
“Look at Japan in the union World Cup. They have come through as a real underdog on the big stage putting in great performances.
“We want to do that with Jamaica. We’re serious. It’s a very exciting time.
“The players have their programme for this week; we’ll be training and out and about in the communities, too, and building towards Sunday.”
Jamaica has some high-profile players, not least Wakefield Trinity winger Ben Jones-Bishop and Leeds Rhinos’ Ashton Golding who helped them to that historic win over the USA to reach the World Cup for the first time.
But experienced Huddersfield Giants loose forward Michael Lawrence – who once represented the England Knights – has also joined up with them for Sunday.
The Knights, meanwhile, yesterday named their squad with 10 of the 12 Super League clubs represented in Paul Anderson’s 19-man squad.
England Knights squad: J Ashworth (St Helens), J Bowden (Hull FC), R Butler (London Broncos), N Evalds (Salford), J Greenwood (Wigan), T King (Warrington), K Leeming (Huddersfield), T Lineham (Warrington), D McIntosh (Huddersfield), G Minikin (Castleford), H Newman (Leeds), M Oledzki (Leeds), O Partington (Wigan), M English (Huddersfield), S Powell (Wigan), D Richardson (St Helens), H Smith (Wigan), C Smith (Leeds), M Smithies (Wigan).