COMPARISONS to Cool Runnings may be stretching things slightly, but, as Ben Jones-Bishop readily admits, Jamaica’s qualification for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup truly is an “amazing” story.
The proud Wakefield Trinity winger realised his own dream by playing a part in Saturday’s historic 16-10 victory over the USA in Jacksonville, securing the Caribbean island’s place in the global event for the first time.
By winning the final of the Americas Championship the Reggae Warriors will feature at the World Cup in England – having only played their maiden Test in 2009.
Indeed, the sport was only introduced on the island four years before that so it is no surprise people have likened it to Cool Runnings, the film about Jamaica’s unlikely emergence as a bobsleigh team at the 1988 Winter Olympics.
“It’s just crazy; I’m still getting my head around it,” Jones-Bishop told The Yorkshire Post, having made his debut in last Tuesday’s 38-8 win against Canada.
“I don’t think it’s really like that (Cool Runnings) – it’s a different environment – but it is good.
The goal was just to get there (2021 World Cup). It didn’t matter how we did it as long as we did it and we did. It’s been immense. It was an unbelievable experience and what it could do in terms of the profile and helping the game back in Jamaica, who knows?Ben Jones-Bishop
“They’ve all worked hard for this, especially Romeo Monteith, the team director who started all this back in 2004.
“The core of this group has been together for six or seven years and had a couple of cracks at America, but just fallen short.
“We were really confident this time, though, and in both games it was just our defence – so gutsy and just turning up for one another consistently – that got us through in the end.
“The goal was just to get there (2021 World Cup). It didn’t matter how we did it as long as we did it and we did. It’s been immense. It was an unbelievable experience and what it could do in terms of the profile and helping the game back in Jamaica, who knows?
“We had five or six domestic players come out with us to Florida and play in both games and to now play in England in 2021 will be great.
“There’s a big Jamaican community here, but everyone also likes an underdog to do well. We’re all looking forward and will see what happens.”
Jamaica’s team is largely made up of English-based players including Leeds Rhinos’ Ashton Golding – man of the match against the USA – Bradford Bulls forward Ross Peltier and former Hull KR winger Omari Caro.
Leeds-born Jones-Bishop, 30, is now their most high-profile player after he fulfilled an ambition to link up with his brother Aaron, the Doncaster winger who scored a hat-trick when Jamaica showed their potential in a 16-16 draw against Wales at Belle Vue in 2016.
“It’s been in the pipeline for a couple of years,” said Jones-Bishop, who was previously named in England squads but never actually played a Test.
“My brother played against Wales over here and France in France.
“I was coming back from surgery for one of those so couldn’t play, but had my eye on these qualifiers.
“I ran it by Chezzy (Wakefield coach Chris Chester) and he gave me the all-clear to do so.
“It’s been amazing. I’m 18 months older than my brother so we’ve grown up in different age groups and while I’ve been pro –and Aaron semi-pro – we’ve never been in the same side.
“It was really good to finally do it. It wasn’t how we planned; I was expecting to play centre and he was going to be my winger, but in the team-run we had an injury so we had to reshuffle.
“I went to full-back, but just to stand next to him for the anthem and share a field with him was a great occasion.”
Players largely self-funded their own trip, paying for air fares to America and only getting some money towards a food allowance, but Jones-Bishop says it has been a proud moment.
“I qualify through my grandparents who are from Jamaica,” added Jones-Bishop, who won Grand Finals and a World Club Challenge during his time with Rhinos.
“All the family back home watched it on the live stream.
“My mum was dead proud as was my grandma, who came down the following day to watch it with them.
“Earlier on my brother played in the first Test ever held in Jamaica when they played Canada.
“Now, qualifying for the World Cup, hopefully it’ll just get bigger and better over there whether we get to play there or go over to America.
“With England, I think that door closed a while ago, but I’m really proud to represent my heritage, my family and play alongside my brother for the first time.
“It’s been a tough slog and I’m back in training with Wakefield on Monday, but’s all been well worth it.”