After a successful 2018 season, Major League Rugby will now be entering it’s second campaign making the league officially the most successful professional rugby competition in U.S. history. But with how 2018 went, 2019 should be even better as now two more teams have joined and the competition format expanded to sixteen games played per squad. With the excitement of how 2018 ended and how 2019 will be, this should be a great season for American rugby fans. With that being said, let’s preview each team.
The Elite had a lot of hope going into 2018 that they would be one of the final four teams playing for a chance to win the championship. It looked that way as Austin was 3-3 with two more matches left in the season. However, the Elite failed to win their last two contests and allowed the Utah Warriors to surpass them to clinch the fourth and final spot in the playoffs. It was a promising, yet disappointing campaign for Austin as it could have been something to build upon. However, that would not be the case as the Elite lost considerable amount of talent this offseason. They lost the likes of flanker Hanco Germishuys, hooker Mike Brown, Number 8 Ross Deacon, prop Paddy Ryan, lock Louis Stanfill, center Roland Suniula, and flanker Pedrie Wannenburg who are all outstanding players, especially Germishuys who might be the best forward in the league. With a diminished scrum, they still have players like hooker Peter Malcolm, lock Ben Mitchell, and added Sebastian Kalm this offseason to play at the Number 8 position. In the backs, they still have some quality players like flyhalf Timothée Guillimin, center Andrew Suniula, and winger Reece Czarnecki, but there isn’t too much fire power there. Expect them to struggle this season.
Undeniably the best team in MLR last season as Glendale were very talented, versatile, and had so much depth. However, despite having only one loss in the regular season (albeit their loss was without a good amount of their starting lineup due to international duty), the Raptors might as well have had a disappointing season as they lost in the Championship game to the Seattle Seawolves. That being said, coming into 2019 there are high expectations for this club. Already with such star players like scrumhalf Shaun Davies, flyhalf Will Magie, and hooker Zach Fenoglio on the team and with some up-and-coming star players like winger Harley Davidson (whom paired up with John Ryberg makes possibly the fastest and best winger combinations in the league), flyhalf/center/wing Mika Kruse, and prop Kelepi Fifita, Glendale might have gotten even better with some of the additions they brought in this offseason. Some of they players they added were prop Marco Fepulea’i, flanker Dwayne Pienaar, Number 8 Malon Al-Jiboori, and fullback Dylan Takaito-Simpson, but the one addition that might have been the biggest this offseason has to be flanker Hanco Germishuys as he will undoubtedly make their scrum very good. They did lose some talented players though as it could hurt with their depth as they lost such players as center Bryce Campbell, hooker Dylan Fawsitt, lock Ben Landry, flanker John Quill, wingers Dustin Croy and Seth Halliman, and Number 8s Sam Figg and Grigor Kerdikoshvili. With an excellent scrum and with some very fast backs, they are the clear cut favorites.
The SaberCats had a promising roster going into 2018, however they finished with only one win. That being said, in 2019, expect them to be better. With the likes of prop Jake Turnbull, flankers Alex Elkins, Matt Trouville, and Cecil Garber, flyhalf Sam Windsor, center Osea Kolinisau, and wingers Joshua Vici and Zach Pangelinan on the roster, there is a lot to like here. That being said, they also lost a lot of their key players too like prop Paul Mullen, lock Justin Allen, hooker Diego Maquieira, and flanker Kyle Sumsion. To make up for those loses, Houston added some good players as lock Victor Comptat, hooker Jason Harris-Wright, prop Mateo Sanguinetti, and Number 8 Ayron Schramm this offseason. While the SaberCats struggled last season, it also might as well have been an anomaly as Houston was more talented and lost on some bad luck. They could be a lot better in 2019.
New Orleans Gold
The Gold had a very promising roster going into 2018 and had an excellent preseason, but the regular season did not go as planned they also fell just short of a playoff spot and finished sixth in the table. The problem wasn’t talent, but it was depth as injuries hurt their chances at a possible playoff spot. They boast some great players like props Hubert Buydens, Cam Falcon, and Ben Tarr, lock Nikola Bursic, flanker Vince Jobo, scrumhalf Holden Yungert, flyhalf JP Eloff, and wingers Taylor Howden and Tim Maupin. This offseason New Orleans did an excellent job of building up their depth as they brought in prop Matt Harmon, locks Kane Thompson, Kyle Baillie, Ignacio Dotti, Number 8 Cam Dolan, centers Tristan Blewett and Con Doley, winger Deion Mikesell, and fullback Nick Feakes as that should make them particularly better. The team did lose some key players like flanker Matt Hughston and Number 8 Sebastian Kalm, but it wasn’t a considerable amount. That being said, look for the Gold to have a much better season in 2019.
Rugby United New York
One big win for the league was landing a team in biggest market in America, New York, however, despite being an expansion side, Rugby United New York (or RUNY) will also be one of the most intriguing teams in the league. With RUNY being a new franchise, they got a chance to construct the best possible squad and because of that it could possibly be even one of the more talented sides in the entire league. They were able to bring in such players like hookers Mike Brown and Dylan Fawsitt, prop Paddy Ryan, lock Nate Brakeley, flankers Matt Hughston, John Quill, and Kyle Sumsion, Number 8 Ross Deacon, scrumhalf Mike Petri, flyhalf Cathal Marsh, centers Seamus Kelly and Chris Mattina, winger Derek Lipscomb, and fullbacks Luke Hume and Ben Foden. There are no loses here, but this roster that has been constructed is very strong and could be one of the more exciting teams to watch in 2019.
San Diego Legion
The San Diego Legion had one of the most intriguing rosters in MLR last season which was good enough for third in the table and a spot in the playoffs where they lost to the Seattle Seawolves in the semi-finals. There was a lot to build upon, however, this offseason, it seems like the Legion took a step back with such a talented roster. They boast some great players like hooker Pat Blair, prop Nathan Sylvia, flanker Devin Short, Number 8 Drew Gaffney, scrumhalves Nate Augspurger and Nick Boyer, flyhalves Joe Pietersen and Dylan Audsley, centers JP Du Plessis and Ryan Matyas, and fullback Mike Te’o. San Diego did add some talent in the offseason with lock Louis Stanfill, props Paddy Ryan and Matt Sandell, flyhalf Tai Enosa, and winger Jasa Veremalua, but it was whom they lost that was the bigger question of going into 2019. The Legion lost a lot of key players that might have put this squad a step back after such a good 2018. The team lost Number 8’s Malon Al-Jiboori and Cam Dolan, flyhalves Ben Cima and Tadhg Leader, flanker Tony Lamborn, center Chris Mattina, hooker Pat O’Toole, props Anthony Purpura and Dolph Botha, center Anthony Salaber, and winger Taku Ngwenya. That’s a lot of key players, but the hope that they can still stay competitive in 2019. The Legion will be an interesting team to follow and see how they do.
The reigning champions will be coming into 2019 with even more high hopes and expectations, which comes with the territory of winning a championship, but mostly because of how talented their roster is. Seattle might as well be already one of the favorites going into the season. The roster is excellent as the Seawolves emphasize on defense, dubbed as the Seawall, but now they have more fire power on offense which makes them even more dangerous. Seattle has the likes of props Tim Metcher, Olive Kilifi, and John Hayden, lock Taylor Krumrei, flankers Aladdin Schirmer and Vili Toluta’u, Number 8 Riekert Hattingh, scrumhalf Phil Mack, centers Shalom Suniula and William Rasileka, wingers Peter Tiberio and Sequoyah Burke-Combs, and fullback Mat Turner. With that roster, the Seawolves added flyhalf Ben Cima, hooker Stephan Coetzee, prop Djustice Sears-Duru, and center Roland Suniula. The team only lost hooker Ray Barkwill in the offseason because of his retirement. You can expect this squad to do big things and might even fight for a chance to repeat as champions this season.
Another expansion team and the only side from Canada, the Arrows are a bit of an unknown going into the season. There are some promising players, but we won’t know what type of team will be until when the campaign starts. That being said, lots of people have already argued that they are a playoff potential squad. The team did lose prop Djustice Sears-Duru to Seattle, but there really doesn’t seem to be a strength or weakness to detect. Some of the players on the roster are scrumhalf Jamie MacKenzie, props Rob Brouwer and Tom Dolezel, lock Mike Sheppard, and John Moonlight. Over the offseason, the Arrows did bring in flyhalf Sam Malcolm and wingers Gaston Mieres and Leandro Leivas. However, the team does have an ownership that is very passionate about rugby in the fourth largest city in North America. There is a lot of potential here with this team especially as the squad will try to showcase all the Canadian talent.
Utah struggled last season despite a good offensive attack, however, because of their offense scoring so many points, they managed to lock down the fourth and final seed in the playoffs as the offense managed to nail down some bonus points on the table. There was some potential with the roster in 2018 and something to build upon for 2019. Just like San Diego, it looks like the Warriors might have taken a step back as the team lost some key players. The roster still has some key players like prop Angus MacLellan, lock John Cullen, wingers Josh Whippy and Tonata Lauti, and fullback Don Pati. The team did bring in scrumhalf Jake Christmann as he was a solid player at his position and was good enough to start in the MLR, but was stuck behind Shaun Davies at Glendale. That being said, there are some key players that were lost too as center Paul Lasike, flyhalf Kurt Morath, and Number 8 David Tameilau all left the club and those are big holes to fill. So Utah is another team to keep a close eye on the see whether they will be able contend or not, however, with more teams and talent in the league this season, this could be a long year for the Warriors.
James Rowe: I feel like this season will be a competitive one that will see the rugby landscape expand even more in this country. However this is how I feel like the table will look like at the end of the season.
- San Diego
- New Orleans
That being said, I think it will be a rematch of Seattle and Glendale in the Championship with Glendale finally winning what they should have gotten last year.
Well here we go! The start of the 2nd season of the MLR is upon us. I’m feeling all kinds of excited for the second iteration of the MLR and I’m itching to the get these predictions/previews going. Lets start things off with a recap. While it was a very competitive season, the Seattle Seawolves and Glendale Raptors were a cut above the rest. The Raptors nearly ran the table, but lost out to the Seawolves in a tightly contested championship match. There wasn’t much parity between the rest of the squads, except for the Houston SaberCats; who only finished with one win. And without further adieu…
- Glendale Raptors
The Glendale Raptors were the best team overall throughout the regular season and narrowly missed out on being champions. The Raptors boast one of the best rosters in the league featuring plenty of USA Eagles. Shaun Davies, Zach Fenoglio, Will Magie, Chad London, Brenden Daly. The Raptors also had the best off-season. Signing Hanco Germishuys is a game changer. I would argue the Hanco, also an Eagle, is the best flanker in the competition. Speedster Harley Davidson is also an impact player for the Raptors and should bag a few tries once again. I’m thinking redemption for this team.
2. Seattle Seawolves
The inaugural and defending champs! I expect to see the Seawolves back towards the top of the table. While they’ve had a quiet offseason, they still boast one of the most complete rosters in the league. William Rasileka, Vili Toluta’u, Matt Turner, and Brock Staller provide a ton of exciting play, especially in open play. The Seawolves are led by Phil Mack, one of the more experienced players in North America and the leads his team well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the ‘ship again.
The new guys are coming in guns a’ blazin’. RUNY has a very large Irish contingent on its roster and Eagles John Quill and Dylan “The Butcher” Fawsitt are joining them. Plenty of their players have overseas experience, which should come in handy. Their biggest asset, in my opinion, is head coach Mike Tolkin. Tolkin is a former Eagle and Eagle head coach. His experience is invaluable.
4. San Diego Legion
WE ARE LEGION! I love that. Last year’s third place finisher should find itself back towards the top. The Legion’s biggest strength is their backline, which features: Ryan Matyas, Mike Te’o, and Dylan Audsley. Forwards Sione Tuihalamaka, Siaosi Mahoni, and Devin Short provide some major hitting/ ball running power to the team.
5. Utah Warriors
The Warriors have also had a quiet offseason which will probably hurt them come time to play. While they finished fourth last year, I don’t think they made enough moves to get back in the playoffs. They will need last years top try scorer Tonata Lauti (9) to carry the load for this backline. Losing Paul Lasike to English Premier Harlequins may prove too much a loss for this years team.
6. Austin Elite
Losing Hanco Germishuys is a massive blow. However, the Elite have been the most active club in the offseason. Bringing in Sebastian Kalm is a big get for this depleted back row. The Elite have a plethora of talent arriving from South America and South Africa. This is going to be a different looking team with the only notable returning player, Timothee Guillimin in the back row. With a lot of newer players comes a lot of growing pains.
7. NOLA Gold
NOLA really missed having Vincent Jobo on the pitch last year, and he should have a positive impact immediately. Unfortunately I don’t see much improvement for the Gold this year and expect to see them at the bottom of the table. But not the very bottom…
8. Houston SaberCats
Last years cellar dwellars are back at the bottom. Outside of Josua Vici and Osea Kolinisau the Sabercats’ attack is kinda toothless. It’ll take some really inspired play for the Sabercats to sniff the playoffs this year.
And yes, I’m aware I left out the Toronto Arrows. But I simply don’t know enough about the other newest addition to the MLR. I do expect a good season, as the Arrows are trying to become a rugby “factory” for the Canadian national team. That should in turn make this team pretty competitive.
Well there ya have it! NOW LET’S PLAY SOME RUGBY!