When the Rugby League World Cup kicks off next Saturday, one year later than originally planned, there will be few prouder families watching than the Youngs. Had things turned out differently and the Covid pandemic never materialised, Alex and Dom Young would have made history by joining an exclusive band of brothers who have played together at a World Cup, doing so for debutants Jamaica.
Instead, they will be writing an even more exclusive piece of rugby league history as brothers representing two separate nations.
Alex, who spent 2022 playing part-time in the Championship for Workington, will honour his grandmother’s heritage by appearing for the Reggae Warriors in their first World Cup. Dom, who has become a try-scoring sensation in the bright lights of Australia’s NRL with Newcastle Knights, will play for England, where he and Alex were born and raised, despite recent ill-judged comments from the broadcaster Eddie Hemmings.
“It was very difficult to say no to Jamaica,” says the 21-year-old Dom. “If the World Cup had gone ahead last year as planned, it would have been Jamaica I’d played for. And that would have meant playing with Alex for the first time. So it was tough to tell him I was going to opt for England.”
Dom and Alex were graduates of the Huddersfield Giants academy but their careers have taken drastically different paths. Dom, frustrated by a lack of game-time at Huddersfield, took a chance on a move to Australia. Within two years, he has become a regular at Newcastle Knights and his form this year was good enough for Shaun Wane to include him in his 24-man England squad. Alex, meanwhile, went part-time after studying law at university. “I had a bit of a different focus I guess,” says Alex, who is two years older than Dom.
“Dom backed himself and took a real risk, whereas I was a bit more conservative with rugby. But it’s incredible we both get to represent our backgrounds at a tournament of this size despite our different journeys.”
Representing Jamaica is a point of pride for Alex, not just to honour his family heritage, but also to try to leave a lasting impact with the Reggae Warriors far beyond the games they will play against New Zealand, Ireland and Lebanon in Group B. After all, this is only the second time a Jamaican team has featured at a World Cup in any sport.
“The guys in this group are absolutely desperate to put Jamaica on the rugby league map,” Alex says. “There’s a chance to really engage with people over here of Jamaican heritage that maybe don’t have too much knowledge about rugby league, and really get a buzz going back over there, too. It’s already been an experience I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
“When I told my grandma I’d been selected for Jamaica I’ll never forget that moment. We’ve been shown clips from over there about us making the news and it’s generating some hype. It’s up to us now to help spread the message that Jamaica is a presence in rugby league.”
Alex does share some sadness that his brother will not be lining up alongside him for the first time in their careers, but concedes he can fully understand the path Dom has taken.
“There is a little bit of mixed emotion but I’m so proud of him,” he says. “He’s not had it easy, he’s been limited with his chances early in his career and now he’s an England international. I can see the bigger picture, and that for him is being on the top of the world stage. He totally deserves it.”
How does Dom feel? “Alex fully understood, but he was gutted – as was I in a way,” the winger says. “He supported me in my decision and our parents did, too. They’re so proud that we’re both playing in a World Cup and the fact we’re doing it for different nations makes it really cool.
“I’m so proud of him representing our family heritage and I’ll be going to any Jamaica games I can. But as soon as I heard England were interested it became a bit of a no-brainer for me. I just couldn’t turn this opportunity down.”
Dom marked his international debut on Friday with a magnificent individual display for England against Fiji. It will almost certainly be enough to secure a place in the side against Samoa in front of 50,000 supporters next Saturday in Newcastle.
Those sorts of crowds are the norm for Dom, who is clearly set for a bright future in the NRL. Alex’s future is less clear, however. “I don’t really know for sure what I’m doing next year – but I would like to continue playing,” he says.
That makes the Jamaica opportunity even more important in potentially attracting a new contract from a part-time club. It is a world away from Dom’s future, but Alex is just as proud to see his younger brother’s rise to the top.
“As kids we were really close and I’ve got loads of memories where we would be watching England games dreaming of making it ourselves one day,” he says. “When I see him singing the anthem it’s going to be an insane feeling. I’ll be so proud to be his big brother.”
The one problem for the Young family? Where to go on 22 October when Alex will be playing for Jamaica against New Zealand in Hull while Dom will be lining up for England against France in Bolton. “My dad didn’t give me an answer when I pushed him on it,” Alex says. “Wherever they go, I’m sure they’ll be cheering us both on no matter what.”