In a league of their own: The United States of Ipswich
THE USA Tomahawks' World Cup campaign is being fired by a quintet of passionate Ipswich league tragics.
We are calling the group "the United States of Ipswich" for good reason.
The famous five - Chris Garry (media manager), Lee Addison (assistant coach), Ben French (physiotherapist), Steve Johnson (team manager) and Michael Garvey (star centre) - are united in the cause of ensuring the Tomahawks take plenty of big name scalps at the World Cup.
That has already proved to be the case. After stunning France 22-18 in the World Cup warm up match in Toulouse, the Tomahawks beat the Cook Islands 32-20 in the opening match of the World Cup.
Now they have their sights set on the quarter-finals.
Johnson, who has been on six Tomahawks tours, said the win over France was a remarkable achievement after a rocky preparation.
"We all met together for the first time at Heathrow Airport," Johnson said.
"Then we flew to Barcelona and had a big bus trip to Toulouse.
"One of our players didn't have a visa, so he and I spent six hours locked down in the airport in Barcelona and then got a hire a car to catch up.
"We had two training sessions and then the game; so to beat France in France was a remarkable achievement.
"Some Australian sides have never done it. A lot of our squad didn't understand how hard it is to achieve, so they weren't intimidated.
"They played with real passion and a sense of belief.
"In the last six minutes we were penalised 10 times in a row. But our boys showed this desperation that you can't coach and can't teach.
"They were determined not to lose and they did it for each other.
"We played in a red jumper and the red jumpers were just pouring in and pouring in.
"It was one of the best wins I've been associated with in rugby league."
That same commitment was on show against the Cook Islands, where captain Joseph Paulo had a blinder, scoring two tries and landing four goals.
Garry, a former Queensland Times journalist who is now one of The Courier-Mail's gun rugby league writers, said the tour had been "a brilliant experience".
"Normally I am on the other side of the fence and I have to keep a big distance between myself and the players, but here I am part of the team," he said.
"When the players defeated France, that was one of the highlights of my career to be part of that.
"I was on the sideline helping with the water and taking photos.
"To be part of that - as opposed to a neutral spectator looking for a story - was incredible.
"After we beat France we didn't even go out. We went to the hotel lobby and all 30 of us crowded around in the hotel lobby and had three beers.
"We didn't want to go out because that feeling (of beating France) was a big enough buzz.
"The players are incredibly tight. We don't have the playing talent of some teams, but this would be the closest knit group of the tournament."
The team is based near Warrington and Addison, the Swifts coach and the boss of the Ipswich State High rugby league program, is back on home turf.
"I'm from Salford, which is 20 minutes away," he said.
"I packed two bags and came to Australia on a one-way ticket seven years ago. I thought I'd stay for a year… but I only managed to get back to England this last week.
"That probably tells you some of the stuff that is going through my head right now.
"I have been so busy that I have not really had a chance to get emotional about it.
"But I did feel like kissing the tarmac when I landed in England... being back in my home country after seven years.
"When I came to Australia I did three years at Manly and two years at Penrith, where I met (former Tomahawks coach) Matt Elliott, who brought me on board with the American team.
"I actually met Steve Johnson, the Ipswich chairman, in Philadelphia two years ago. I am in Ipswich because of Steve."
Johnson said French, also the Ipswich Jets physio, has been a big hit with the players.
"Rugby league is about opportunity," he said.
"Ben is here as a physio. He's got the coach Terry Matterson, who is a Super League and NRL coach, and players like Clint Newton, Joseph Paulo and Matt Petersen who have had massive NRL careers... and they are saying he is the best physio they have ever had.
"Hopefully Frenchy will get some recognition and a run with an NRL club."