USARL: Rhinos earn trip to Jacksonville after two wins over Mayhem

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TAMPA, FL – After back to back wins over the Tampa Mayhem, the Atlanta Rhinos have earned a trip to the Southern Conference (SC) USA Rugby League (USARL) Championship Game.

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The Rhinos take the ball toward the Tampa try zone. Photo Credit: Brian C. Cole

Since the Jacksonville Axemen won the regular season and their first playoff game over the Central Florida Warriors, the Axemen will host the SC USRAL Championship on Saturday, 13 August in Jacksonville.

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Tampa tackles Atlanta near midfield. Photo Credit: Brian C. Cole

rhinos team_logo With the Atlanta Rhinos third straight win, the team improves its record to 3-3-1 for the 2016 USARL Season.

mayhem-logo After three consecutive losses to end its season, the Tampa Mayhem finishes 3-4-0, and cannot compete in anymore games until 2017.

The Mayhem bring down the Rhinos as Atlanta approaches Tampa's try zone. Photo Credit: Brian C. Cole
Mayhem bring down Rhinos as Atlanta nears Tampa’s try zone. Photo Credit: Brian C. Cole

In order to reach Jacksonville, the Rhinos had to defeat the Mayhem in the first round of the playoffs (06 August), and did so by a final score 26-16. This victory followed Atlanta’s 40-34 unexpected win over Tampa on 30 July. Even more impressive, both contests took place on the grounds of Tampa Catholic High School, which serves as the home field for the Tampa Mayhem.

Admittedly, the Atlanta Rhinos had arguably upset the favored Tampa Mayhem in the first matchup. Going into this pair of games, the Mayhem was considered the second best team in the SC USARL. Also, the Mayhem had previously beaten the Rhinos in Atlanta 56-30 on 25 June.

However, Atlanta’s win over Tampa Saturday marked the second weekend in a row the Rhinos defeated the Mayhem. Therefore, Atlanta invalidated any assertion that the previous week’s victory over Tampa was nothing more than an aberration.

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Tampa attempts to stop Atlanta as the Rhinos score a try. Photo Credit: Brian C. Cole

Clubs keep the game close through the first half

Both clubs kept Saturday’s game close through the first half. To start the scoring Tampa earned and converted a try 11 minutes into the game to take a 6-0 lead over Atlanta. However, 21 minutes into the game, the Rhinos responded with an unconverted try to cuts the Mayhem’s advantage to two points.

Only six minutes later, Atlanta struck again, scoring another try (no conversion), to take an 8-6 lead over Tampa. Just before halftime, the Mayhem earned one more unconverted try, bringing the halftime score to Tampa 10 – Atlanta 8.

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Atlanta tackles Tampa as the Mayhem approaches the Rhinos’ try zone. Photo Credit: Brian C. Cole

Rhinos outscore Mayhem 18-6 in second half to secure an Atlanta win

Even though Tampa took ownership of the ball to start the second half, the Mayhem were unable to take advantage of its possession. Atlanta quickly got the ball back, and scored a try and conversion to take a 14-10 lead over Tampa five minutes into the second half.

With 18 minutes left in the game, the Rhinos earned another converted try to extend their lead over the Rhinos to ten. Just nine minutes later, Atlanta scored and converted another try to take a formidable 26-10 lead. Finally, Tampa responded with a try of its own with seven minutes left in the contest, bringing the score back within ten.

In the closing minutes of the game, the Mayhem missed out on many opportunities that could have given Tampa a chance to win the contest. Therefore, the Mayhem vs. Rhinos rematch in the first round of the playoffs ended with the final score Atlanta 26 – Tampa 16.

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The Mayhem catch a past as Tampa tries to score. Photo Credit: Brian C. Cole

Both teams talk about their performance in the Atlanta vs. Tampa Game

Billy Neilson, Assistant Coach with the Tampa Mayhem, talked to Rugby Wrap Up (RWU) after Saturday’s match about his club’s loss against Atlanta.

RWU: What went wrong with the Mayhem Saturday?

Neilson: “Unfortunately,we [Tampa Mayhem] didn’t match Atlanta’s pace and aggression. While we were able to take the lead into half, they were consistent and managed to break our line up the middle a few times for long tries.”

RWU: What could Tampa have done differently to come up with the win?

Neilson: “First of all, we needed to do a better job with ball in hand. Also, too many errors inside at the try line cost us.”

RWU: What hopes do you have going into next season?

Neilson: “Over the last three years, We have improved with each season. While we didn’t meet our expectations this year, we will keep building the club and continue grow the sport of Rugby League in the Tampa Bay area.”

Salesi Tongamoa, a senior player with the Atlanta Rhinos, also took time to talk with RWU about his team’s win Saturday over the Tampa Mayhem.

RWU: What did the Rhinos do right today to secure back to back wins over the Mayhem?

Tongamoa: “For this game, we [Atlanta Rhinos] finally came together as a TEAM by completing sets both offence and defense. In fact, everyone played a part as a team on this win.

Not only did our forwards was just not giving up in the middle, but our backline also stepped up and completed a lot of our sets! Most importantly, we came with the mindset of we can beat Tampa after last weekend.”

RWU: What are your thoughts/how will you prepare going into next Saturday’s SC USARL Championship match against the Jacksonville Axemen?

Tongamoa: “Basically, our preparation for next weekend is minimize our ball handling errors. As a rule, we can do a whole lot of attacking when we hold on to the ball.

While Jacksonville will challenged us in all aspects of the game, we will ready ourselves for the challenge Jacksonville has for us next weekend. Yes, we already know what they are capable of. However, we will be there to remind them we are the defending SC USARL CHAMPS.”

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Tampa and Atlanta tangle near midfield. Photo Credit: Brian C. Cole

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To learn more about the Jacksonville Axemen, please visit the club’s website. For more information about the Atlanta Rhinos, please visit the club’s website. To learn more about the Central Florida Warriors, please visit the team’s website. For more information about the Tampa Mayhem, please visit the team’s website. For additional information about the USA Rugby League (USARL), please visit the USARL website.

About Brian C. Cole 53 Articles
Mass Comm Grad Student at USF in Tampa Bay, FL (US); write about Rugby as well as Music, Politics, and Weather; Photographer; covers SE Division of USA Rugby League (Atlanta Rhinos,, Jacksonville Axemen, Lakeland Renegades, Southwest Florida Copperheads and the Tampa Mayhem); works with Tampa Mayhem & Tampa Bay Krewe RFC.