TOMAHAWKS JETTING OFF
Located approximately 40 km (25 miles) west of Brisbane in Australia, the city of Ipswich is a world away from the tropical island of Hawaii.
Historically a coal mining city, the Ipswich community is renowned for their resilience and toughness, as demonstrated during their resurgence from the devastating floods that engulfed the city in 2011.
With a rich sporting history, the city has been a breeding ground for many famous sportspeople. The most notable of course is former Australian halfback Allan Langer, who started his first grade career with the Ipswich Jets - the city’s premier Rugby League team.
Arriving at the Jets last month were American Rugby League players Jayson Rego and Josh Rice. The former Hawaiian-based football players and aspiring Rugby League hopefuls were given an opportunity to compete for a start in the club’s premier league team courtesy of AMNRL’s Football Development Manager Steven Johnson, who also serves as the Chairman on the Jets Board.
WeAreRugby will follow their progress throughout the season as the pair strives to sharpen their Rugby League skills and compete at the highest level possible. During their stay in Australia, the ex-football players from the University of Hawaii will be coached by former NRL players Ben and Shane Walker.
They will train and compete against former professionals along with potential NRL stars of the future. The players are already benefitting from the experience. As Rego told WeAreRugby, “It's great having coaches like Ben and Shane because they've played at the highest level, the NRL. So they know exactly what it takes to get there. In the short amount of time I've been here and trained with them, I've already learned a lot of things that'll up my game.”
From the standpoint of the players, this experience will improve their Rugby League skills, while providing them with the opportunity to compete at a higher level. As for the Tomahawks’, the more experience their players can obtain in stronger competitions around the world, the stronger the national team will become. In a short period of time, the players are already noticing the difference.
As Rice told WeAreRugby, “The running training is similar to what I’ve done in gridiron but there are a lot more reps and a lot less rest time in between. Also the passing and kicking skills of all the guys at training is pretty impressive.”
The Jets have a solid reputation when it comes to player development. A host of State of Origin players either began their career or spent time at the club including: Kevin and Kerrod Walters, Jason Hetherington, Jeremy Schloss, Chris Beattie, Graham Mackay, Brad Meyers, Danny Moore, Craig Teevan and Chris Walker - brother of coaches Shane and Ben.
As Rice says, the Walker brothers are already having an influence on their stay both on and off the training paddock. “Shane gave me and Rego a ride to training one day. On the ride over he showed us some clips of his brother Chris scoring tries and some PNG players making some big hits, that was pretty cool.”
Notable Queensland hard-man and current Assistant Coach of the Gold Coast Titans Trevor Gillmeister also served as head coach of the side between 2003 and 2006. The Jets act as a feeder club to the Titans and it is common for players to make the transition between the two competitions.
Stepping up to a tougher competition isn’t easy. As Rego told us, “The major difference I've noticed so far is that the level of skill and fitness are high here. From what I've seen and experienced so far, the game is a lot faster paced.”
Apart from improving their Rugby League skills, the players are also experiencing a culture unique to Australia. Rice elaborates, “I got to see my first Kangaroo on the side of the road a couple of days ago.”
However it’s the dream of playing in the NRL that seems to be the driving factor motivating the duo. When asked about his goals for the season, Rego was clear on his ambitions for the future. “My goals for the season are to learn as much as I can. Play and compete at every chance I get and the ultimate goal is to eventually make it to the NRL.”
Rice acknowledges, “My goals for the season would be to learn as much as I can from the coaches and other players. Improve my instincts and sharpen my skills and apply that to game situations. Also my goal would be to play for the top side at the Jets and then progress to the highest level and play in the NRL.”
A positive step for Rugby League in America as the development of young talent expands to international shores and stronger competitions.