As we move into the final 24 hours ahead of Game 1 of the Colonial Cup, we’re joined in conversation by Tomahawks captain Apple Pope to get his thoughts on a number of things. The USA hosts Canada Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia in the opening match of the 2011 series. The American skipper took time out from his busy schedule with the team to talk about the squad the AMNRL has assembled, Canada’s improved competitiveness, the importance of the two-game series, the Rugby League World Cup Qualifying series and his role as captain.
WeAreRugby: Can we get your thoughts on the 22-man squad, especially the new guys.
Pope: I really like the idea of a 22-man roster coming into camp. It’s good for many reasons. It allows us extra guys if anyone pulls up lame with a hamstring pull or family emergency, it keeps pressure on all the guys to continue to work hard through camp and the game because they know there is someone else dying to take their spot.
And the most important reason is that it allows 22 guys instead of 17 to become accustomed to our framework and get to know how we do things as a team and the culture we are trying to develop as the Tomahawks.
WeAreRugby: Do you think Canada will be more competitive this year?
Pope: There is no doubt Canada will be better this year and will probably be better than anyone has seen them to date. They have worked hard for an entire year since we saw them last and they have a good strong core of players with quality leaders up there. They mean business for sure.
WeAreRugby: How important is it for the USA to win the series in light of the Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers coming up in October?
Pope: Winning the series isn't really that important for us at this phase. We haven't joined up together since March and there are going to be some kinks that we need to work out. Our goal right now is to build upon the things we have already put together and have been working on since the Atlantic Cup in 2009.
Our goal since that time has been to be as well prepared as possible for the RLWCQ. We'll start worrying about taking care of all the winning when October rolls around. Right now we're concentrating on team development.
WeAreRugby: This will be your fifth straight Test as captain, so are you feeling more comfortable in that role now?
Pope: I feel like I understand the culture and the team systems that we are trying to develop and also what the team and coaching staff expect from me, so from that standpoint you could definitely say I feel comfortable with the role of team Captain.
But it is such an honor and privilege to be named Captain of the Tomahawks and to lead so many talented players that I don't think I will ever be completely comfortable.
WeAreRugby thanks Apple Pope for spending some time with us and we wish him and the team all the very best for Saturday and the important schedule ahead for the USA.