Lagos Havens delivered an ominous warning to the rest of the Southern Conference with a dominant display to crush Lagos Rhinos 30-10 as the much-anticipated 2021 Nigeria Rugby League season roared to life on Sunday for the first time since 2019.
Havens dominated from start to finish scoring tries at will as they restricted the visiting Rhinos to just two tries across two halves to record a one-sided 30-10 victory in front of scores of fans at the sandy Navy Barracks pitch, Ajegunle Apapa, Lagos.
Kiki Stephen scored three of Havens’ tries, with John Precious, Tom Ezekiel and Kingsley Okoli recording the others, while Precious weighed in with three conversions and Okoli added one more.
Collin Gilbert scored one try and Usman Yahaya added one conversion for Rhinos.
Havens’ captain Azuka Chika Kelvin attributed his side’s dominant season-opening win to their preparations in the offseason, adding that he’s confident Havens can go all the way this season while also delivering an ominous warning to their next opponents.
“Of course we’ve been anticipating for this moment [when the league will start again],” Kelvin told busybuddiesng.com. “I think because of the one value we have, and also knowing that we’ve been training for a long time, it also added to our success of winning today.
“I would say 100 per cent confident [about the rest of the season]. Every match we’re giving our 100 per cent best, off and on the pitch. We communicate once in a while with players that are not on ground, so that they can do their personal work out at home. So we believe definitely, just like we did last season, this time around we’re going to do much more better.
“Next game expectation is going to be more than this. Next game we should expect something hotter than this.”
Rhinos’ captain Kelechi Joseph Ekeh wasn’t as excited about his side’s prospects for the rest of the season.
Ekeh carpeted his teammates for their dismal display and blamed a lack of chemistry for their heavy loss.
“I will start from the players. I have very poor players. I started this game with new players, honestly,” a visibly upset Ekeh said. “Most of the guys that even played for my team are new players, they were not used to the game. They were not used to the system and that’s why we failed.”
On their prospects for the rest of the season, Eke expressed fears Rhinos will “keep failing” if they don’t improve on the field and in recruitment.
“[Our lack of good players] is going to affect us very badly. We’ll fail woefully, in fact, we will keep failing, seriously,” an exasperated Kelvin said.
Meanwhile, the day’s other game was a more closely fought affair with Lagos Broncos eventually prevailing 20-12 against The Kings RLFC.
Raphael Nwabichiri, Kelvin Okpowo, Fawas Oseni and Shedrack Kalu scored the Broncos’ tries, Oseni missed two conversions and scored one as did Okpowo.
Qudus Oseni, Sodiq Sakariyau and Idowu Monsuru scored one try apiece for The Kings who were made to rue Michael Clement’s three missed conversions.
The maiden edition of the Nigeria Rugby League was held in 2019 but the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic destroyed any continuity and a second season was unable to hold.
While Nigeria has a long-established Rugby Union tradition, Rugby League only took a foothold in the country in 2018 with the incorporation of the Nigeria Rugby League Association led by its chairman Abiodun Olawale-Cole and General Manager Ade Adebisi.
Within a short period, the NRLA was able to engineer appreciable awareness and a groundswell of acceptance of the Rugby League code with the establishment of a nine-team domestic championship.
Nigeria also hosted and won the second edition of the MEA Championship with the chair of the Rugby League International Federation Graeme Thompson and the Director of Rugby League World Cup, Karen Moorhouse gracing the competition.
All the momentum was sadly lost with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, so for General Manager Adebisi just being able to get players to compete again is plenty cause for excitement.
“It has been a long journey for us,” Adebisi who was on hand to witness the season-opening fixtures alongside Olawale-Cole and NRLA General Secretary Michael Ejiofor told busybuddiesng.com. “[The] first-ever league season was 2019, we were hoping to continue 2020, but obviously, with all the Covid issues, we couldn’t start, but we’re very happy to have started again this year, 2021, we’re looking forward.”
Adebisi revealed a tweaked format for this season with more matches and play-offs involving the top two teams in the Southern and Northern Conferences for the title with the grand final to be staged in Lagos.
“The season is a different format this year. The last season everybody played each other once, now we’re playing each other twice. And the top two teams from the north of Nigeria will come and play the top two teams from the south, so we’re looking forward to the season,” he said.
There are currently five teams in the Southern Conference and four in the Northern Conference which is yet to kickoff.
Competition continues in the Southern Conference next weekend.
2021 Southern Conference Rugby League Results
Lagos Havens RLFC 30 – 10 Lagos Rhinos RLFC
Lagos Broncos RLFC 20 – 12 The Kings RLFC