The PRO hangover is officially done, and the rugby community here in the USA can breathe a collective sigh of relief that it is. Because, with the expiration of PRO and USA Rugby’s agreement, the door for the MLR to become the official rugby premier league of the United States is officially and legally open.
Now, I understand that there are probably some nice-words-or-no-words folks out there who will wag their digital finger at me on Twitter for celebrating PRO’s exit from existence the same way I did for those sunglasses Kanye used to rock with the bars on them in the early-2000’s and say “But PRO’s on field product was great!” Yeah? And those glasses were fun to wear at school dances…kind of.
Anyway, on to why you’re reading this article. Seven teams will take part in the MLR’s inaugural season, with each drawing players from surrounding local clubs and abroad. Many of these players were part of PRO teams themselves before having their contracts terminated like indentured servants (Get it? Because a ton of them didn’t get paid! “Not funny Liam!” It’s kind of funny. Okay, I promise, I’m done).
Although news of more player signings continue to roll in, I thought I’d highlight certain players who could strongly affect their team’s ultimate on-field success. I want to say, first and foremost, there are a ton more players that deserve to be mentioned here. Every rugger who earned their way onto an MLR roster deserves it in their own way, but these are just a few to shine a light on.
New Orleans Gold
Head Coach: Nathan Osborne
Founded by former LSU Prop Tim Falcon, NOLA was among the most active clubs during the contract signing frenzy that occurred this past fall, picking up a few former Eagles to bolster a roster that is looking more and more competitive. Along with a handful of native New Orleanean players such as Bobby Johns and Cam Falcon, the team also features a host of other former PRO and club talents that have made names for themselves over several circuits.
Ben Tarr, for instance, is a hard-hitting Prop who broke out onto the USA Rugby scene in 2014 when he was selected to the USA Selects team for the ARC Developmental Tournament. He was able to make his international debut for the Eagles later that fall against Romania. Tarr would go on to sign with the Denver Stampede, winning the one and only PRO Rugby Championship with them that year (by points, not sure how many people remember the heartbreak felt by the Ohio Aviators that day).
New Orleans has also dipped their toes into the international pool, with players such as Vincent Jobo, a Flanker who has played for several senior clubs in South Africa, including an appearance during the 2012 Under-21 Provincial Championship, scoring a try for his squad off the bench. There’s also 2011 College Player of the Year J.P Eloff, a South African native who’s the younger brother of capped-Eagle Phillip Eloff. The younger Eloff made his own debut for the Eagles during the 2016 ARC against Canada before signing with PRO’s Ohio Aviators.
Head Coach: Justin Fitzpatrick
Houston has impressed fans early with a few exhibition games before the official start of the MLR season, garnering wins over elite clubs such as the Dallas RFC (21-5) and the Austin Blacks (55-14). Led by former Irish Union player Justin Fitzpatrick, the Cats’ have put the league on notice early with a powerful group of forwards, who if they remain healthy, might dominate teams in the scrum throughout the course of the season.
Just a few names from this powerful group of front men includes former PRO standout Cecil Garber IV (Flanker), who led the league in tackles playing for the San Diego Breakers that year, Jake Turnbull (Prop), a former USA Selects representative who most recently played in Australia for the Eastern Suburbs Rugby Union team, and young English lad Jack Riley, a versatile player capable of playing across the Front Row who Coach Fitzpatrick called an “imposing athlete” with “undoubted potential.”
Although if truth be told, the talent on this team isn’t exclusive to the scrum. Thanks to his impressive effort in their bout with Dallas, Houston’s Fullback Zach Pangelinan, a capped Eagle who’s been arguably one of the best players in the country for the last few years, was the first MLR Club player to be named to Americas Rugby News Team of the Week. Pangelinan made his debut for the Eagles during the 2012 International Series and later signed with the San Diego Breakers. He’s also appeared as a mid-fielder for his native Guam’s soccer team.
Head Coach: David Williams
Bruh…it’s the Raptors. Remember the Austin Huns’ dominating path to the D1 Championship last year? Their one stumble? The Glendale Raptors.
Although they’ve lost a few players to other MLR Clubs (Peceli Rinakama to the Gold for example) and have yet to post the official roster on their MLR site, there’s a few players we can assume will be present and ready to make an impact when they take the field.
Shaun Davies (Scrumhalf), for one, has been a stalwart presence for the Raptors over a number of seasons. Originally playing his College ball at BYU where he won the 2009 National Title, Davies made his Eagles debut in 2013 versus Russia and has held a Player/Coach position with the Life Men’s Rugby Club.
Then, there is the imposing force known as Ben Landry, a 6’5 Flanker who opened the floodgates for the Eagles recently against Germany by creating a turnover off a powerful tackle. The USA would go to win the match 46-17, due in large part to Landry’s efforts.
Honorable Mention: Will Magie (No offense Will, I just finished up 22 credits this semester and I’m dying to join my friends currently partying outside my room as I write this, and that’s one less paragraph.)
San Diego Legion
Head Coach: TBD
This team could literally be fielding a team of fu#%ing dragons led by Ryan Matyas and we wouldn’t even know. That’s how much information has come out about them.
The only reason we know about Matyas is because of the league-wide uniform photo shoot, and honestly, for all I really know, the dude could have just been there that day and wanted to take some photos. Seriously, just an educated guess we’ll be seeing him in red this season.
That aside, Matyas is a capped Eagle with some time spent playing professionally in New Zealand for the North Harbor Sevens Team, as well as with the San Diego Breakers here at home. He should make a talented veteran presence on the field.
Austin Elite Rugby
Head Coach: Alain Hyardet
So these guys have to be heading for a name change sometime soon, right? Are they going back to The Huns orrrr….? Never mind, not important.
The Huns were by far one of the most fun teams to watch in USA Rugby last season, and it was no small thanks to a number of talented players who now reside on the Elite’s roster who could display speed and physicality on the inside and out. And, although it won’t be the same team that made Huns Rugby club history a few months ago with a Championship victory over NYAC, GM Thierry Daupin has done a tremendous job making sure it has a chance to be pretty darn similar.
It all starts with Michael Reid, the former All-American who looks like he would feel just as at home defending The Wall from White Walkers as he would on the pitch. Reid has a unique energy when he plays, darting around from ruck to ruck to get the ball out while being able to dish out hits like a Flanker. His ability to shoot the gaps himself when there’s nothing open on the wing could come in clutch for Austin this season when games get close or when they need to run the clock, and his leadership on the field will be unquestioned.
Peter Malcolm is another name to keep an eye on with this team. The capped-Eagle Hooker is still young (24), but his floor and ceiling are as high as anyone else’s in the league. The last year has been a roller coaster for the young man, who seems to have caught a hot-streak for winning, not only helping the Huns win the 2017 title over NYAC, but also being a part of the team to help The Eagles qualify for the Rugby World Cup over Canada.
Head Coach: Alf Daniels
So far, Utah is preparing to field a unit that looks more like a Slytherin Quidditch team than anything else (that’s nerd speak for putting an emphasis on size and toughness). Now, that’s not to say that this team is full of future Dark Wizards, but it is to say that Utah is looking like a team who won’t give out any easy wins to its opponents.
Beginning with one of Utah’s most seasoned internationals, Lote Tuipulotu is a Hooker/Prop who has seen starting time for Tonga’s International Rugby League team, as well as earning a cap with the Tonga A Rugby Union squad in the 2015 World Rugby Pacific Challenge. That wealth of experience is sure to come in handy with a squad of younger players who haven’t seen much professional playing time, if any at all.
One of the squad’s most recent and ‘smaller’ player signings, Joshua Whippy, is a versatile center/back player with experience that stems from time playing in New Zealand and for BYU, where he was a collegiate All-American in 2014 and 2015. Whippy was recently named MVP of the 2017 Utah Select Sevens team, with whom he won back to back championships in 2016 and 2017.
Head Coach: Tony Healy
The city of Seattle’s obsession with aquatic animals/references for mascots with some variation of a blue, green, and white color scheme continues. However, unlike the SeaHAWKS of the NFL, this squad by the bay hopes to find themselves in the postseason when all is said and done.
They certainly find themselves in good position to do so, signing the ‘Little Magician’ Phil Mack to act as a player/coach. Mack brings a treasure trove of experience, having earned 52 caps with the Toquaht First Nation team in Sevens competition over the course of his career. He has also earned two gold medals in the Pan Am tournament representing Canada.
Another name from North of the border most should recognize is the tough as nails Ray Barkwill, who has 45 Canadian National caps to his name. Barkwill made his presence known here in the U.S while a member of PRO’s Sacramento Express, acting as a steady veteran presence in one of the league’s most dominant scrums, which should come in handy against teams like Utah and Houston.
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Penguin Tundra Sports Blog was created in 2016 by a very bored college student who was obsessed with Rugby and Football. That same college student knew how to write pseudo-intelligently, so what better way to show off than to create a blog. Along your journey though the Tundra's domain, you may come across outlandish opinions, horrible spelling errors, and some shit that is just outright wrong. Well then, you should comment, give my blog more attention, and we will have our day in internet court. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy talking about sports as much as I do.
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