Thrown together at short notice and barely knowing each other’s names, the US Tomahawks were a disorganized rabble as they headed to Europe for the country’s first appearance at the Rugby League World Cup.
“Shock The World” was their motto.
So far, they are doing just that.
The Tomahawks are on the cusp of a place in the quarter-finals — and a likely meeting with tournament favorites Australia — after beating co-hosts Wales 24-16 on Sunday for their second straight group-stage win.
“The boys keep defying belief, to be honest,” said coach Terry Matterson, who has only been in the job less than a month.
If the Cook Islands lose to Tonga today, the US are guaranteed to finish first in Group D and reach the last eight.
Even if Tonga lose, the Tomahawks can still ensure first place by beating Scotland on Thursday.
Not bad for a group of players who are not even getting paid to play in the tournament.
Between the 32-20 win over the Cook Islands on Wednesday last week and the memorable win over Wales, the US had one training session and spent Saturday watching Premier League soccer, attending Manchester City’s 7-0 hammering of Norwich City.
“They are making me proud, and their families and teammates proud, too,” Matterson said.
“The more we can do here, it will obviously raise awareness [in the US],” he added.
Clint Newton, the son of former Australian golfer Jack Newton, scored two of the US’ five tries after going behind early to Wales in Wrexham.
Matt Peterson, captain Joseph Paulo — man of the match for the second time in the tournament — and Tui Samoa also scored tries for the Tomahawks, who had just three US-born players in the starting team.
The Tomahawks have now won five matches in a row, starting with a Colonial Cup double over Canada and followed by an extraordinary warmup win over France in Toulouse on the eve of the World Cup.
Wales, semi-finalists in 1995 and 2000, became the first team to be eliminated from the tournament, having lost to Italy in their opening match.
Italy also played their second group game on Sunday, drawing 30-30 with Scotland in Workington, England, to leave both teams level on three points at the top of Group C.
Italy lead on points-difference and play Tonga in their final group match.