By Jeremy Fuchs
The USA Rugby League season is underway, and the Southwest Florida Copperheads showed they are ready to take on all comers with a convincing opening win.
Playing at the beautiful Paradise Coast Sports Complex in Naples, the Copperheads beat the South Florida Speed by a score of 88-4 on June 11th. Not only was it a smashing way to start off the year, but it was also the biggest win in club history.
The owner of the Copperheads Curtis Goddard was very happy with the win and was sure to thank his team and game day sponsors Booty Builder, Chiropractic Care & Rehab Center, Estero Bay Chevrolet, Encore Cabinets & Design, and KAM Concrete Pumping over the PA as the final buzzer blared.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lYGztjPm4w - Click Link or Image for full game highlights.
The scoring started off on a dogged rush by captain Rashad Shelton in the KAM Concrete Pumping #12, he willed his way through multiple tackles, following that effort a successful try by Arnold Mananu in the Rodger B. Rice PA #9. However, Shelton and Mananu didn’t stop there. Rashad Shelton in the KAM Concrete Pumping #12 followed that up, showing off his brute strength then helped Johnny Lindsay in the SWFL Chimney Caps #3 find a gap and put the ball down for a try next, breaking tackles and stiff-arming his way for a follow-up score. The Speed was no match for the speed of the Copperheads early and often. Jean Fortin in the Sea Salt #17 hit the line at pace made one clean juke move and pounced in for yet another score, off a nice feed from Mananu. Next it was Wes Piggins turn in the Cardio Gym #13, he saw a small gap close to the line squeezed his way through traffic to keep the scoring barrage on.
However, a Speed player did get a chance to break the shutout, which was an opportunity well earned at that point but that would be it for the Miami-based team on the day.
The Copperheads scoring got back on track by hooker Arnold Mananu in the Roger B. Rice PA #9. Mananu, the 5’6”, 165 lbs 26-year-old hooker originally from Kampala, Uganda, ended up leading all scoring with an impressive five tries, including the next most heads up try where he pounced on a turnover, which was backed up with a successful conversion by Anthony Halikas in the Key Moving Services #7 who missed just three conversions on the day. Mananu kicked his own on his tries and he ended up with a pair of conversions on the day.
However it wasn’t all Mananu because Yacouba Traore our big fella in the Vitalic Design #8, responded to the Speed score with a nice rush after some nifty passing by his teammates.
Shane Spring in the Copperheads Athletic Training Services #26 slid his way in for the score as well running right over the top of their toughest defender who really put a shot on with no success. Spring ended up being voted Players Player not just because of his hard run but because of his solid defensive effort.
Not to be outdone Wes Piggins in the Cardio Gym #13 did it again, breaking his nose and bleeding down his face in the process.
Yet the Copperheads kept pouring it on. Next was a nifty passing sequence, where at least five Copperheads touched the rock, which ended with a long run by team Captain Rashad Shelton in the KAM Concrete Pumping #12. Finished by Lucas Speese in the Cardio Gym #19.
Without remorse the Copperheads kept piling it on, leaving Mananu in the Roger B. Rice PA #9 to score yet again, this time he celebrated a try with a good effort at a floss dance. The Copperheads continued to show their passing prowess off a scrum, with a number of competitors touching the ball before Anthony Halikas in the Key Moving #7 ran it in for the game’s final score.
Even with the offensive explosion, a team commitment to defense helped keep the Speed at bay by forcing them to wear their errors all afternoon.
The Copperheads dominated the entire 80-Minutes, their remorselessness in Defense, and the squad taking advantage of an inexperienced Speed club led to the one sided result, however, it is very possible that when the Copperheads see the Speed again on July 23rd that this team will have grown in the trial by fire to come and change it’s fortunes moving forward. One thing you can’t teach which the Speed have is their combination of size and speed.
In the next game on June 18th, the Copperheads will head out to Tampa, where they will face the reigning champion Tampa Mayhem at Leto High school’s football stadium. This is the start of back-to-back matches against the defending league champs. The Copperheads enter the match on top of the South Conference, with a record of 1-0-0. Though this match against the Speed was an easier defensive assignment for the Copperheads, they will need to raise their levels defensively to keep up with the big boys in the middle with the Mayhem.
But this strong start by the Copperheads should give them the confidence and inspiration to go head-to-head against the Champs and come out victorious next week.