USA fall out of World Cup contention but tournament was key for the sport overseas

Cooling off: Former Port Macquarie Sharks captain-coach Matt Shipway cools after during USA's clash with Italy last week. Photo: NRL Imagery
Cooling off: Former Port Macquarie Sharks captain-coach Matt Shipway cools after during USA's clash with Italy last week. Photo: NRL Imagery

FORMER Port Shark Matt Shipway represented the USA in the World Cup for the second time, and not surprisingly the red, white and blues didn’t fare too well.

It wasn’t hard to see why. Half the team included Americans who were born and raised in the states, rather than those who qualify through parents or grandparents, like Shipway.

Aside from a handful of players like Shipway, most of the team lacked the fundamental skills of the game to compete with other nations in the tournament. But that didn’t matter in the scheme of things.

Despite suffering three huge losses, he says the competition was a great stepping stone for the game in America.

“A lot of them have only played (rugby league) for a couple of years. To be able to come in and compete the way some of them did, it was good to see,” he said.

“There were guys playing for us who only had the equivalent experience of group football.

“It was definitely important for rugby league in America that those guys played. They can go back and hopefully help build the sport up.”

Despite spending nearly a month away from his family, Shipway said  it was a great experience, which included spending time in Papua New Guinea and scoring the USA’s first try of the tournament in a 58-12 loss to Fiji.

“The try was definitely a highlight of the tournament for me personally,” he said.

“We thought we could do a little better than we did, but as it turned out it was a really good moment that I can look back on.

“I didn’t feel too far out of my comfort zone. I felt like I held my own pretty well.

“The team was thrown together pretty quick. We had four days together before the first game so it was a challenging competition for us, but we knew it was going to be like that.”

The side spent very little time with ball in hand, mostly defending in the loss to Fiji, and the losses that followed (46-0 to Italy and 64-0 to PNG).

Shipway was unable to play against PNG after tearing his hamstring in the Italy fixture. Still, he was able to match up against NRL superstars like Jarryd Hayne and James Tedesco.

“It was good to be able to test yourself against those guys and to see how they perform,” he said.

“In the Italy game, their forwards were hard to bring down. The NRL guys like Paul Vaughan and Daniel Alvaro, they were tough.”

Apart from the try, Shipway said the experience of sitting on the sideline and soaking in the atmosphere of the PNG crowd was unreal.

“You could barely hear the players communicate,” he said. “Even just a strong run or a big tackle, the crowd were on their feet carrying on. It was amazing to see.”