The MLR Champions get a rest from destroying dreams
Some of the Seattle Seawolves Major League Rugby players are enjoying the week off, after breaking more than a few hearts and running the MLR standings through the Starfire shredder. Let’s get caught up on all the action from the last few weeks.
First up, the undefeated Toronto Arrows visited Starfire Stadium on February 17th to measure their mettle against the MLR Champion Seawolves. Everyone knew it was going to be close – most people put it at a 3 point game – but pundits and fans alike were evenly split on whether it would be the Seawolves or the Arrows who would take the win.
Coming out strong and testing the Seawolves with wide-ranging play, Toronto drew first blood with a try and conversion in the first few minutes of the game. The Seawolves quickly responded, and the two teams traded scores right up to half time when they were matched at 17 points each.
Following the pattern of so many Seawolves games, Toronto came out after the halftime break setting the pace and scoring multiple times in a row. The Seawolves were unable to capitalize on their few opportunities until a superhuman effort by the famous defense – the SEAWALL – stifled the Arrows onslaught and began to turn the tide of the game.
In the last five minutes of the game, Ben Cima made two different on-the-run dropkick goal attempts that both missed the mark. But fouls by the Arrows on both attempts allowed the sure foot of Brock Staller to put two place kicks through the uprights, giving the Seawolves six point and the win in the final moments of the game.
New York – alki?
The next week, on February 24th, the only other undefeated team in the league – Rugby Union New York (RUNY) – made their inaugural visit to yet-again sold out Starfire Stadium.
With their first bye-week earlier in the season, RUNY was only 2-0, but had been the only team to take down the formidable San Diego Legion and NOLA Gold; not incidentally the only two teams to defeat the Seawolves so far this season. Was this going to be RUNY putting the entire MLR on notice by taking down the Champions as well?
In short: No.
The sure hand of coach Richie Walker was evident this week, as the Seawolves put together phase after phase of play. The dominant SEAWALL finally got some support from the backs and wingers, who connected the dots and took advantage of every RUNY weakness.
Going into the half 26-14 over RUNY was a new experience for the Seawolves, who have not been a first-half-dominant team yet this season. Coming out of the halftime break the plan continued, with the Seawolves putting up more unanswered points, and clearly dominating for the full second half.
A brilliant run and try scored by Shalom Suniula was celebrated in a hilariously surprising manner by his 4-year old daughter, who sprinted out on the pitch to give her daddy a congratulatory hug, before being corralled by her mother and ushered back off the field. The crowd went wild for the little pink Power Ranger’s enthusiasm and bold heart-felt exuberance.
Finishing out the game at 33-21 was a puzzler of a result for the Seawolves and the league. The Seawolves lost to the Legion and NOLA, who RUNY beat … and then RUNY lost to Seattle! Clearly nobody was safe at the top half of the standings table.
Standings and Sittings
Today, with almost all teams having played 5 games of the 16-game season, the Seawolves stand in third place behind the NOLA Gold and SD Legion, respectively.
Last year’s runners-up, the Glendale (Colorado) Raptors seem to have finally found their feet, and are in 4th place with a 2-2-1 record (earning the first tie in MLR history), while the Utah Warriors and Houston Sabercats continue to play strong rugby but have only managed a single win each. The Austin Elite have plenty of talent, but are not clicking at all, having lost all 5 of their games so far.
As we move into the middle of the 16-game season, the Seawolves schedule sees the Houston Sabercats coming to Seattle next week (March 10th – sold out) and then the Seawolves going to Austin to take on the Elite on March 16th.
After that, all eyes will be on the first Seawolves rematch of the season, when the San Diego Legion come to Starfire Stadium for the first time in 2019. The Seawolves February 2nd defeat in San Diego was in a downpour of biblical proportions that was an ugly game by every measure. With (hopefully) better conditions and a definitely superior rugby pitch, both teams should be ready and able to bring their best to the rematch.
For the second half of the season, both RUNY and the Arrows will be playing almost all of their games at home. Whether this leads to a home field advantage for these new-in-2019 teams or not, could lead to significant changes on the leaderboard late in the season.
The Seawolves started the season with an extremely tough series of games. Now in the their bye week they have hopefully had a chance to recover and rest up, to prepare for their heavy road-game schedule.
But there is one last wrinkle to consider: the Seawolves have both Canadian and American players that get called up for international games, as well.
Last weekend, Oli Kilifi got his first international call-up for team USA (the Eagles) in their defeat by Uruguay at Starfire Stadium.
On March 8th, Canada will be playing the USA for the final ARC match of the season at Starfire, and key Seawolves players will be representing on both sides of the field!
In rugby the game-day roster is usually announced the day before the game, so we don’t know for sure who will be named for the squad, but with the performance of the Seawolves, and key USA players injured or wrapped up in the Las Vegas 7s tournament, there could be a number of Seawolves on both sides of the pitch.
Starfire Stadium was almost sold out for the USA v Uruguay match, and will definitely be full again for the Canada game… and I’ll bet that the whole stadium will be rooting for both sides at the same time.
March is going to be an amazing month for rugby in the Pacific Northwest!