Atlanta looking to finish Season VII undefeated
In their second season in 2015 the Rhinos started the season in a similar fashion, where they eventually went through to being runners up in the USARL Championship, but after a strong start in 2017 the goal this year is to go one better.
So far the Rhinos have defeated all of their division’s teams, including two wins against last year’s runners up, the Jacksonville Axemen.
To the Rhinos’ Captain and Operations Manager, Nick Newlin, it has not come as much of a surprise. “We started a little earlier this season, kicking off preseason April 29th and really set forth our goals early in the season. We had almost 30 out at training two times a week which is a first for us, which really showed that the game is growing here in Atlanta and high quality athletes are starting to take notice.”
“It makes the competition to break the starting 17 very tough and that’s a great problem to have for any club,” Newlin said. The Rhinos’ success has been based off far more than their pre-season though, adding new faces to their roster and bringing back player/coach Jordan Smedley who provides a wealth of knowledge from playing and coaching in Australia.
“He did wonders for getting the groundwork laid in our inaugural season in 2014 and having him back really helps us bring back our structure and instill the culture that we have set which goes along with putting on a Rhino kit. I’d say the biggest thing I’ve noticed with him back is the solid starts to games we have had. In the past couple years we have always been a bit sluggish from the kickoff, but this season our first 15-20 minutes has been our strength,” Newlin stated.
The Rhinos have also seen the return of try scoring center, Terrance Williams and have recruited winger Nick Barthel, who both spent 2016 in Australia playing Rugby League. John Paul Jr. and Alifereti Kikau have also joined the side, transferring their skills across from a high-level of rugby union and the team has also recruiters newcomers in Mario Johnson and Daniel Medina.
The Rhinos are set to play the Central Florida Warriors this weekend, after all USARL teams had a well-earned rest for the July 4 holiday.
The Warriors are currently winless in the south division, with the Rhinos defeating them 58-20 in round three, but the Rhinos will need to be prepared as the Warriors have challenged them in the past, with a 28-all draw in 2016.
The Rhinos will be looking for their players to bring the same form that has helped them to an undefeated start.
Whilst there have been stand outs across the team, Newlin identified a few admirable mentions that have been key to the sides success.
“It’s huge to welcome back Terrance Williams into the squad after playing last season in Australia and he has started out hot, especially offensively. Joining him I would say Hiko Malu has played quite well along with 2017 rookie player John Paul Jr. at center and the solid veteran play of Salesi Tongamoa up the middle of the field has been outstanding as well,” Newlin added.
The Rhinos players are looking to ensure victories one week at a time but with consistency in their performances there's no doubt that their players will be thinking ahead to a potential World Cup selection later this year, with Newlin having already captained the USARL Hawks on three occasions.
With the Rhinos seemingly hitting their best on the field, they've been matching that off the field with a new website, the team has a new kit courtesy USARL Hawks apparel provider, Paladin Sports, whilst also being in discussions to play against sides coming from Australia and England.
The Rhinos have also secured continued support from their partners Yeungling Beer and energy drink Electric Monkey, with SkinX joining the Rhinos family in 2017, which is an anti-bacterial sports gel that the team has been using.
The Rhinos will be looking to continue their wave of success in 2017 with their match on the road against the Central Florida Warriors being played at Spec Martin Stadium, Deland Florida, this Saturday at 5pm.
Photos: Allene Rachal