Jamaicans aim to show they are not out of their league

A team from the Caribbean will take to the field in the Carnegie Nines at Headingley today. Dave Hadfield on rugby masters of cool scrummings
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The Independent Online

Rugby league crosses one of its more unexpected boundaries today with the appearance in the Carnegie Nines at Headingley of a team flying the flag of Jamaica.

It is not quite as left-field as the bobsleighing immortalised in the 1993 film Cool Runnings but its still a sport not usually associated with the island. Their coach, Dean Thomas, hopes that will all begin to change tonight. "We've got the team here, including four players flown in from Jamaica, which is a result in itself," he says. "We expect to win at least one match and qualifying from our group would count as success."

To do that, they must compete with Cumbria and Leeds Met Carnegie in the qualifying stages, with Super League teams lying in wait after that.

They will do so with a team laced with novices from the fledgling Jamaican domestic competition, although Thomas believes that one of them, the prop, Edgar "Shrek" Herbine, is already good enough to play here at Championship level.

"The others are more top amateur standard," he says. One of them, though, the half-back, Roy Calvert, is the Usain Bolt of Jamaican rugby league and will also be competing tonight for the title of League's Fastest Man, against professionals like Warrington's Kevin Penny.

Herbine, Calvert and their fellow-countrymen had a scare last week when a delay over their visas almost saw them miss their sponsored first-class flight. "Since they got here, though, they have integrated really well with the rest of the squad. They are the ones who put the 'Jamaican' into the squad and show that we are not just a British-based side," Thomas says. "They've even got the guys speaking with a Jamaican accent, instead of their normal West Yorkshire."

Thomas has been unfortunate that several of the British-based players he planned to use, like Harlequins' Lamont Bryan, Corey Simms of the London Skolars and Keighley's Jermaine Wray, have been pulled out of the event by their clubs and replaced by the likes of the Hunslet duo, Wayne Rettie and Michael Brown.

The professional talent Thomas has to draw upon is a reminder that the Jamaican influence on British rugby league is far from negligible. Another is the presence in the camp of the island's most celebrated player.

Des Drummond won 24 Great Britain caps in the 1980s as one of the toughest, fastest wingers the game has seen and he has applied his famously rigorous approach to training tonight's squad. "Des has been fantastic," says Thomas. "He's the ultimate motivator and has been great on the conditioning and physical preparation. He did the lot, played in Australia and played under some great coaches, so he has a lot to offer."

The Jamaican squad have had a crowded programme of promotional events, often in Caribbean enclaves like Chapeltown in Leeds, since they assembled at the weekend. Tonight it will be down to business in an attempt to show that they have a role to play in international rugby league.

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