In a four-part series, Doug Coil and Alex Goff are collaborating on articles about the Major League Rugby drafts that will be published on DJCoil Rugby and the Goff Rugby Report.
Editor’s Note: Our list of unprotected players is our list alone—not an official team list of unprotected players but our speculation based on what we know.
In part one, Doug provided an introduction about the drafts and on the dispersal draft of Colorado Raptors players. Part two will focus on the MLR expansion draft. This will take place this month after Dallas and Los Angeles have exclusive access to negotiate with Raptors players intending to stay in the MLR. After that period has expired, players can then be approached by the other 11 teams, according to Bryan Ray in Americas Rugby News.
The Colorado Raptors withdrawal means that MLR has 13 teams for 2021. The league will play with 13 teams during the 2021 season while maintaining unbalanced Eastern and Western Conferences. The league created conferences to decrease travel costs and was also a player welfare issue.
Part Two, MLR Expansion Draft
Part two of this series will examine the remaining 11 teams, their strengths and areas of need, and who might be available to Dallas and Los Angeles in the expansion draft. Doug will take the lead in discussing the teams’ roster from 2020 and Alex will then provide his perspective.
Some teams may have an older veteran presence at certain positions and want to acquire younger players, others may want increased height for lineouts, or to focus more on their tight five in set pieces.
After weighing in on these factors, Alex will provide his perspective on players that will be protected, draft prospects, while examining team needs.
Unlike other professional leagues, once Colorado Raptors are contracted and the expansion draft is concluded, the rugby public will need to wait for team releases concerning their rosters for 2021.
Next up, the MLR Collegiate Draft
In parts three and four, Alex will primarily focus on the Collegiate Draft that is being held on June 13-14, 2020. Players have until May 17 to enroll for the draft.
Evaluation of MLR Teams, Protected Players, & Potential Draftees
There are several unknown factors when speculating on which players teams will protect. Has a player obtained a visa for validating a contact? Does this player have ties to the area due to other employment or family issues that signal other teams not to draft when left unprotected? Is there a positional need to retain players? Are there performance declines due to age, injury, or other issues? Does the team want to protect emerging younger talent as they develop? Will the team protect less than 30 players to have greater flexibility with future contracts?
Some players have played with the team when a roster gap arises due to injuries or visa approval delays. That may have been a short term or match contract and when circumstances changed those players were no longer under contract. Since clubs do not make these announcements, some players may be listed as possible expansion draft choices, but are free agents.
Players may have signed contracts for other leagues, like the Super Liga Americana de Rugby in South America, in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Japan.
When players are mentioned to leave unprotected in this article, it is not to negate their talents as a rugby player. It may be simply due to perceived needs or how that player appears on the depth chart.
All MLR players have article links for their background profile. Be more knowledgeable about the teams, as well as the players!
After a fifth-place finish and just missing out on the playoffs in 2018, the team was winless in 2019. The team made leadership changes and attempted to reestablish its Austin connection with the Austin Huns, Austin Blacks, as well as with San Antonio and to support the Austin Valkyries Women’s Rugby Club.
With the departure of the Colorado Raptors from Major League Rugby, the Houston SaberCats have the only rugby-specific venue in Major league Rugby.
The SaberCats finished in 7th place in 2018 with a 1-7 record, in 7th place with a 6-10 record in 2019 with most of the wins coming in May and June after a coaching change. The team was competitive in 2020 but finished in 12th place with a 1-4 record.
New England Free Jacks
The New England Free Jacks were one of the three expansion teams in 2020 and played an exhibition season in the Spring/Summer against Irish Pro14 A-sides in the Cara Cup.
The team opened with a decisive win over Rugby United New York but then lost four matches to finish in 9th place as the MLR season ended due to COVID-19.
Nola Gold completed the 2020 shortened season in 4th place with a 3-2 record. The team moved to a new facility at the Shrine on Airline and converted the former baseball stadium to a rugby pitch.
Old Glory DC
Old Glory DC was the surprise team in the league. The expansion team played before a sold-out crowd in the home opener at Cardinal Stadium on the Catholic University campus and finished third in the standings with a 4-1 record.
Rugby ATL had a 2-3 record during their inaugural MLR season. The team was developed with an emphasis on young talented players. Many had ties to Life University with several additions from South Africa.
Rugby United New York
Rugby United New York began the season with injury and visa issues and needed to shift players to other positions and to have several young players see action during the first two weeks of the season in Las Vegas.
San Diego Legion
The San Diego Legion went 5-0, which had them in first place in the MLR standings. Despite their team vying for the league title, the shortened season removed that from consideration.
After winning the MLR Shield after finishing in second place during the regular season, the Seawolves will be disappointed in their 1-4 finish and 10th place finish in 2020. Injuries and visa delays affected their team cohesion.
The Toronto Arrows had a 4-1 record, which had them in second place int he MLR standings while playing all matches on the road.
The Utah Warriors finished with a 2-2-1 record, which had them in 7th place in the MLR standings.
MLR 2021 Expansion Teams
There are several questions concerning whether players have Associate contract status instead of MLR contracts, as well as the draft status for players that may have signed short-term MLR contracts. Visa status issues that could void contracts were an issue with several players. Visas once obtained are usually good for 2-5 years. Also unclear is the status of the dispersal of Colorado Raptors players first to Dallas or Los Angeles and then made available for the existing 11 teams.
MLR team 2020 rosters were reviewed and there are links to each player’s profile. Team needs, as well as potential players, were listed and are summarized below. Age, ties to the area, contract status, and visa approval status issues may be concerns for both draft availability and Expansion selection. Both Dallas are Los Angeles also may be targeting players playing for area clubs, and potential choices in the Collegiate Draft.
Expansion Draft Potential Players
- Austin Gilgronis: Skyler Adams, Philip Hanson, Reece Czarnecki, Alex Faison-Donahoe, while Alex Rees, Erik Jacobson, and JP Novak may be under the short-term contract status.
- Houston SaberCats: Joe Kelly, Gabe Romero, while Campbell ‘CJ’ Burke may be under the short-term contract status.
- New England Free Jacks: Stephen Dazzo, Ahmad Harajly, Jon Kokinda, Diego Maquiera, Pago Haini, Christian Admas, and Tolu Fahamokioa
- NOLA Gold: JoJo Tikoisuva, with Trace Bolstad and Lindsey Stevens likely on short-term contracts and with Brian Ptomey, Giovanni Lapp, Kenneth Jinkins, Cam Troxler, Jonathan Poole, and William Waguespack likely on Associate contracts.
- Old Glory DC: Tendai Mtawarira, Mo Katz, Dacoda Worth, Sean Hartig, Tyler Myles, Vetekina Malafu
- Rugby ATL: Neethling Gericke, Zac Mizell, Maciu Koroi, Sam Chaney, Eamonn Mathews, Zach Young
- Rugby United New York: Mike Petri, James Denise, Brian McKellar, Erik Tack, JP Aguirre, Julio Cesar-Giraldo
- San Diego Legion: It is unclear whether Tai Tuisamoa, Tu’ihalamaka, William Wardlaw had short-term pre-season contracts. while Marcus Tupuola likely had an Associate contract. That leaves Derrick Broussard, Chris Turori, Tai Enosa with William Wardlaw if he signed an MLR contract.
- Seattle Seawolves: Peter Tiberio, William Rasileka, Eric Duechle, Matt Brennan, and Joe Montgomery
- Toronto Arrows: Rob Brouwer, Shawn Windsor, Pat Parfrey, and Mike Smith
- Utah Warriors: Frikkie de Beer, Mike Payne, Fet’s Vainikola, Lance Williams, Kenny Scott, Caleb Meyer, Tonata Lauta. Should Joe Pikula, Hynie Lea’aetoa, Jaggar Tauvao-Wall, or Danny Christensen have MLR contracts instead of Associate ones, they would also be on the list. Alex Tucci and likely Nolan Tuamoheloa did not have medical clearance from injuries sustained in the 2019 season.
Possible Dallas Selections:
- Alex Faison-Donahoe, Ahmad Harajly, Frikkie de Beer, Kenny Scott, JP Aguirre, Zac Mizell, and Gabe Romero. Alex Rees could sign as a free agent or be drafted if eligible.
Possible Los Angeles Selections:
- Pago Haini, Tolu Fahamokioa, Maciu Koroi, JoJo Tikoisuva, Tai Enosa, Zach Young, and Vetekina Malafu. William Wardlaw, who played with Belmont Shore, could sign as a free agent or be drafted if eligible. Australian Lindsey Stevens could also sign either as a free agent or be drafted if eligible.
Dallas was slated to be one of the inaugural members of the league, but the timing was not right. Mike Ford was brought in as the Director of Rugby, however obtaining a suitable facility to play matches was an issue.
The Dallas area has had a rich tradition of supporting rugby in the area, club, college, high school, and youth rugby. Club area teams are listed below.
- Dallas RFC (Dallas Reds) was established in 1968 and is one of the leading club teams in the U.S. They field three Men’s teams in Divisions 1, 2, 3, and 4 sides, as well as having a Women’s Division 2 and Old Boys team.
- The Dallas Harlequins was founded in 1971 and field Men’s Division 1 and 3 teams, a Women’s Division 1 team, as well as Boys High School and Old Boys sides.
- Fort Worth Rugby Club was also founded in 1971 and competes in the Men’s Division 2 and 4 Divisions.
- Alliance Rugby Club (Black Knights) was formed in 2002 and is located in Keller, Texas. The team competes in the Men’s Division 2, 3, and 4 and has youth and high school teams, as well as an Old Boys side.
- Dallas Athletic Rugby Club (DARC) fields a Men’s Division 3 team (Knights), as well as a Women’s Division 2 side (Dames).
- Grand Prairie Maverick Rugby Club competes in the Men’s Division 3 and 4.
- Denton Rugby Club competes in the Men’s Division 4.
- North Texas Barbarians Rugby Club was founded in 2012 and compete in the Men’s Division 4.
- Dallas Diablos Rugby is an inclusive, LGBT sports team and charity organization that competes in the Men’s Division 4.
- Abilene Rugby competes in the Men’s Division 4.
- Tyler Hoplites RFC competes in the Men’s Division 4 and also fields a Women’s side.
The Dallas Reds have four players that have played in MLR. Connor Murphy is the most likely to play professionally for Dallas, while Chris Saint, Chad Joseph, or Kelly Kolberg could add depth in reserve roles.
- Connor Murphy played scrumhalf for the Houston SaberCats in 2018 and 2019 (profile). Before that, he played with the London Irish from 2014-2017. He is 24 years old and has also played flyhalf and wing with the Reds.
- Chris Saint is 30-years-old and has played scrumhalf, as well as flyhalf with the Reds. He also played with the Houston SaberCats in 2019 (profile) and is a former USA Selects and three-time Collegiate All-American.
- Chad Joseph is a 32-year-old flanker/No. 8, who has played professionally with the Houston SaberCats in 2019 (profile), NOLA Gold in 2018, and the Ohio Aviators in 2016.
- Kelly Kolberg, a 35-year-old wing, played with the Houston SaberCats in 2019 (profile).
- Ross Davies played for NOLA gold in 2019.
Los Angeles Loyals
The Los Angeles Loyals President/CEO is James Godrey, who has been involved extensively in rugby in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. According to his Linkedin.com page, “the vision of Loyals Rugby is to innovate, revolutionize, enhance the Global Rugby Economy and its Community. Its mission is to create commercially sustainable self-funding rugby economies and communities around the world.”
The greater Los Angeles area also has an extensive rugby club, college, high school, and youth presence.
- Belmont Shore RFC has a Men’s team that competes in the Pacific Rugby Premiership Division 1, D2, Women’s Divison 1 side, as well as a high school, senior boys and girls, youth teams, and sevens.
- Santa Monica RFC was founded in 1972 and competes in Men’s Division 2, 3, and sevens, as well as a Women’s Division 1 side, and youth boys and girls.
- Ventura County Rugby Club founded in 2009 (Men) and 2010 (Women), competes in the Men’s Division 2 and 3, Women’s Division 2, and has a youth program.
- Los Angeles Rugby Club competes in the Men’s Division 2 and has age-grade youth programs.
- Pasadena Rugby Club competes in the Men’s Division 2, Women’s Division 2 side, and has a youth program.
- San Fernando Valley Rugby Club was founded in 1963 and has a Men’s Division 2, Women’s Division 1 and 3 sides, and U18 teams.
- Eagle Rock Rugby Club was founded in 1937. It competes in the Men’s Division 3.
- Huntington Beach Rugby Club (Unicorns) was founded in 1970 and competes in the Men’s Division 3.
- Back Bay Rugby Football Club was founded in 1985 with the consolidation of two first division clubs, Irvine Coast and Newport Beach. Irvine Coast was initially Irvine RFC, formed in 1966, while Newport Beach RFC was founded in 1972. The team fields a Men’s Division 3 side.
- Fullerton Rugby Club competes in the Men’s Division 3 and also the Women’s Divison 3 (Wolfpack).
- Santa Barbara Rugby Club (Grunion) competes in the Men’s Division 3, while the Mermaids Women’s side also is in Division 3.
- Kern County Rugby Club (Bakersfield) competes in the Men’s Division 3.
- Beaumont Bluehawks competes in the Men’s Division 3.
- Dead Rabbits Rugby Club (Victorville) competes in the Men’s Division 3 and 4 and has a Women’s side.
- Riverside Rugby Club was founded in 1969 and competes in the Men’s Division 3 and 4 and has a Women’s Division 3 side.
- Temecula Rugby Club (Mountain Lions) although closer to San Diego, ould attend Los Angeles matches. The team competes in the Men’s Division 3 and 4, Women’s Division, and has a youth program.
- Los Angeles Rebellion competes in the Men’s Division 3, 4, and is a member of International Gay Rugby.
Look for the Loyals to add a veteran Australian National team player. Look for some local talent to receive contracts.
- Belmont Shore’s Vilame ‘Pila’ Longi plays wing or fullback and also played professionally for the Scarlets, Nottingham, San Francisco Rush, and has 21 caps for Tonga. He also played for Life West.
- Tai Enosa was a late addition at scrumhalf, flyhalf, fullback to the San Diego Legion in 2020, after playing with the Legion in 2019. He also has six caps for the USA National Team and played with Belmont Shore previously. He may be available in the expansion draft.
- Mike Te’o, a 26-year-old wing/fullback, left the San Diego Legion (profile) and the USA Sevens Residency program to join the London Scottish in 2020. He arrived just before the team’s ending English Championship play due to COVID-19. It remains to be seen if this National Team 15s and 7s player returns to the MLR in 2020.
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