Brian Lowe is providing special exclusive reports on the Rugby League World Cup for RUGBYMag.com.
Okay, so the USA Tomahawks didn’t quite manage a sweep of their Group matches at the Rugby League World Cup. They posted a very creditable, and some might say unexpected, 2-1 record to clinch Group D and book a spot in the quarterfinals.
In their final preliminary game, Scotland stormed home in the second half to post a come-from-behind 22-8 victory.
At halftime things were looking fairly promising for the US national team as the bigger of the two underdogs led 8-0, but their grueling schedule of three games compressed into just nine days was too much and in the end it took its toll.
The USA’s schedule was actually the toughest of any of the 14 nations competing at RLWC2013, and following hard games against the Cook Islands and Wales, there were some battered and bruised bodies on the field in Salford City.
The Tomahawks were on the wrong end of a hefty penalty count, no fewer than 12 against them in the second half and 15-5 all up in Scotland’s favor, meaning they can legitimately lay claim to being harshly done by, although there’s nothing new about that irrespective of the code of football being discussed.
"I'm really proud of these players, but it is so tough to defend all those penalties," coach Terry Matterson said afterwards. "The players were not frustrated with Scotland, they were frustrated with what happened out there. Now we put that behind us because these guys have been great playing three games in nine days.
"Their effort was outstanding as was Scotland's. These players have really bought into our structure and the need for effort. We will work a bit more on our ball control and our discipline because some penalties were warranted, but not all of them."
In the end though it is what it is and the official record will reflect Scotland registering its second win all-time against the USA.
Despite the disappointing loss, the Tomahawks won Group D and as a consequence they’ve been rewarded with a berth in the playoff rounds. And that’s a pretty big deal for a team that’s playing in its first ever Rugby League World Cup. We use the word ‘rewarded’ loosely, however, because there’s a huge downside which is they have to face #1 Australia in the quarterfinals.
USA skipper Joseph Paulo, sees the game as a chance for the Tomahawks to show they can compete with the world's best.
"For the boys to take on the best in Australia, they just can't wait for the challenge," Paulo said. "We are going out there to win."
You’ve got to give the guy kudos for having cojones, but seriously, even if the Kangaroos put out a second string team they should win by 40 to 50 points. And that’s not meant as a slur on the USA; it’s more a statement of fact about how good the Aussies are when it comes to the 13-man code.
These two teams have met once before, on a cold November night in Philadelphia in 2004 when Australia won 36-24.
To everyone’s surprise, the Tomahawks kept their noses in front into the third quarter of the game that night, but the visitors, who were on their way home from the Tri Nations series in the UK, eventually ran them down. The scoreline this time is unlikely to be anywhere near as close as that.
The Australians aren’t ranked #1 in the world for nothing. Put simply, and notwithstanding #2 New Zealand and #3 England, they are the best, period.
That said, you can expect the Tomahawks to give it everything they’ve got. They will play with passion, they will put their bodies on the line and they won’t quit. They will play with pride and they will make us all proud to be associated with Rugby League in America, but the reality is the odds are stacked very much against them.
Notes: An appeals tribunal has cleared the USA’s Haveatama Luani to play against Australia, lifting a one-match ban for a dangerous tackle. USA Head Coach Terry Matterson successfully demonstrated during the appeal hearing that Luani played a minimal role in a three-man tackle on Scotland’s Peter Wallace.
Video: Australia star Sam Thaiday took time out from a meeting with some schoolkids to heap praise on the USA team.