Colton’s Corner: MLR Championship
Colton’s Corner will be a weekly feature on five topics from around MLR.
Building a Dynasty
A dynasty is a difficult thing to define because it’s subjective. For instance, when I think of a dynasty, I think of a team that’s won three championships in a span of five years. You can throw whatever your definition of a dynasty is out the window as it relates to Major League Rugby, though, because the Seattle Seawolves are a dynasty. A league that is only two years old has only seen one champion. They are the top dogs until someone knocks them off, and while the top-ranked San Diego Legion were literally seconds away from doing just that, the Seawolves used a try in the 80th minute to add a second championship shield to their trophy case and another ring on their finger.
It’s pretty amazing how similar their two championships have been. They went into both MLR Championship Series as the second seed and lost to both teams they played in the final twice in the regular season. They’ve eliminated the Legion from the playoffs twice and have won both of their championships at Torero Stadium. After two seasons, the Seawolves record sits at 17-1-6 and they have a +135 point differential. Winning is contagious, and the Seawolves have the bug. No team will look the same heading into the 2020 season, but the talent and depth they displayed especially late in the season is the perfect example of the foundation that they are continuing to build in Seattle.
Winning back-to-back titles is an incredible task, but pulling off a three-peat is only going to get harder. There will be more pressure than ever, and the Seawolves will have to do it with another head coach as Richie Walker is heading home to take over the Auckland Storm. The Seawolves have risen to every challenge they’ve faced through their first two seasons, though, so it’s impossible to count them out of anything. But the Seawolves don’t have to think about that for a while. As the author, Leo F. Buscaglia once said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
They deserve to enjoy the fact that they’ve got a two ring head start on the rest of the competition.
A Gutting End to a Fantastic Season
“Phenomenal. Obviously, we had a slow start with our first home game, but from there, things kind of kicked into gear. We created a winning culture and a winning relationship and a nice brotherhood with the boys. It’s been a phenomenal season. It’s been phenomenal to have been a part of this. All the guys have progressed from last year.” – San Diego Legion fly-half Joe Pietersen on what it was like to play for his team in 2019.
It probably rings hollow, but the San Diego Legion have no reason to hang their heads.
When I watch games like Sunday’s final, I can’t help but think of this quote by Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. “We didn’t lose the game, we just ran out of time,” Lombardi once said after a loss.
That’s honestly how the Legion should feel after that match. It’s not going to take any pain out of the loss, but it’s true. They took the opportunities that the match presented to them, the cards just weren’t in their favor on Sunday. Both teams made enough plays to win the match, but the Seawolves made the most timely one. That’s sports. It’s why we love it and why we hate it.
I believe that that match could be played 100 times and each team would win 50 of those meetings. They were that evenly matched.
Despite dropping their opening match, the Legion came into the season carrying the momentum that they built up at the tail end of last season and built upon that momentum every single week. That ability to grow and build is one of the reasons they should be right back in this position next season.
Fullback Mike Te’o told me a few weeks back about the job that Rob Hoadley has done with this team over the course of these two years.
“I’ve actually played three years for Coach Hoadley,” Te’o said. “I don’t think there is another head coach that works as hard as him. He’s on it 24/7. He loves every little bit. He cares about every player and just worries about every little detail. Having a coach like that, that works that hard, you can only want to work hard for him as well.”
Quotes like that represent the direction that the Legion is heading, and that was echoed by Pietersen on the pitch after the match on Sunday.
“If you want to really be optimistic, we are one step further than last year so it’s already progressed,” Pietersen said. “To lose in this way in the last minute, we know what New York felt last week. We have to keep our heads high, stay humble and come back for another one.”
Having a team built around coaches and players with that attitude tells me that the Legion is just getting started. I can’t wait to see what they can do in 2020.
The End of the Beginning
“It’s awesome man. It’s awesome. Before that game, we got a shout out from (head coach) Scott (Robertson) down with the Crusaders in New Zealand. One of the better teams in the world. We had Russell Wilson give us a little shout out before in our match ceremony. Rugby is growing. Hopefully, more Seattle-based players can go through elementary school, high school and college and become a Seawolf one day. And across the league too. Hopefully, this league keeps building, and we have referees, coaches all being built within America and we’re not having to look overseas. It’s all about the growth in Canada, the USA, North America, and this league.” – Seattle Seawolves wing Brock Staller on the ripple effect of the MLR.
I had the pleasure of spending Sunday’s grand final in San Diego with the Seawolves contingent, the Rugby 100 Club, which is a topic I will go in depth on in the next section. One of the things that I heard one of the members of the Rugby 100 Club say after the match on Sunday evening was something along the lines of, “I feel like this is the end of the beginning.” After letting that marinate in my brain for a few days, I can’t help but think that quote is the perfect way to describe the state of the MLR. As I wrote last week, there is still plenty of room for growth and still so much to improve on, but Sunday’s match was a little more proof that things are heading in the right direction. To have a match that was that competitive in an environment that was that amazing on national television is so good for our sport. After the way the final weekend of the season turned out, it’s hard not to be excited for what’s to come.
24 Hours in the Gaslamp Quarter With the Rugby 100 Club
I think I could write an entire piece on my trip to Sunday’s championship match with the Rugby 100 Club, the Seattle Seawolves superfans that have been so kind to me all season long. I did an interview with Richard Martin back in Week 3, who, along with Graham Ophilant, founded the club after Seattle’s 23-19 victory over the Glendale Raptors in the 2018 MLR Championship match.
I linked up with the Rugby 100 Club when I traveled up to Seattle for the Seawolves-Gold match back in Week 13 and again during Seattle’s Week 17 trip to Glendale to take on the Raptors. When Martin invited me to join them for the MLR Championship in San Diego, I couldn’t say no.
I’m extremely glad I made the trip because it drove home the point that the Rugby 100 Club embodies what rugby is all about. A lot gets made about the culture of rugby, and that’s because the community continues to live up to the standard it has set for itself.
While I had met a handful of the members of the club during my two encounters with them, there were way more fans in attendance than the two times before. Because I am not a Seawolves fan, it would’ve been easy to brush me to the side and go about their trips themselves, but that couldn’t have been further from the case. From the second I jumped off the plane and joined them for breakfast on Sunday morning to the moment I left on Monday morning, I was treated like family.
One of the things I love about this sport is the tightness of it all. The great thing about the close bond that exists in the rugby community is that it’s only broken to allow more people in. Throughout all the MLR matches I’ve been to over the last two years, not once have I heard of an instance of someone being shamed for being unfamiliar with the sport. If a newcomer shows up to a match, they’ll leave with more rugby knowledge than they arrived with. If you show up to a pitch with a pair of boots, I promise someone will invite you to get a run in. That’s what makes this sport great.
When I spoke with Martin back in Week 3, he told me about his and Oliphant’s mission to bring 100 Seawolves’ fans on the road to every away match. Getting 100 fans to an away match was a lofty goal, and like the MLR, would need time to grow. Despite existing for only a year, the Rugby 100 Club was pretty close to 100 people on Sunday. They did their part to bring the noise and energy in the sea of Legion fans that packed into Torero Stadium. Whether you were at the match or watching the broadcast, you were aware that they were there. The energy that both them and the Legion fans brought on Sunday made for an extremely exciting atmosphere. Torero Stadium was an electric factory and the stands were jumping all afternoon.
I did a lot of observing on Sunday. I could see and feel how the Seattle contingent’s excitement at breakfast transformed to nervousness as we rode the party bus that the Rugby 100 Club rented over to the pitch. As I got situated in the press box before the match, I could see the two fanbases interacting. There was no aggression or ill will that I saw, just handshakes, high fives, and beer glasses clinked together before the match. I made my way down to the pitch just before the final try and saw the elation that both the players and fans felt when Brad Tucker put the finishing touches on the game-winning maul. From the trophy presentation to the bus ride back to the hotel to the celebration on Sunday night, it was apparent how much the Seawolves mean to their fans.
I had no skin in the game. I just wanted to see a quality rugby match, and that’s exactly what I got, but to be able to observe a day that was so important to so many people up close and personal in the manner that I did was simply amazing. Thank you to the Rugby 100 Club for that.
I traveled to San Diego on Sunday to cover a rugby match and I left with a handful of stories and more friends and phone numbers than when I arrived.
That’s what rugby is about.
We made it.
When I jumped on board prior to the MLR’s inaugural season, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve tried to do what’s been asked of me to the best of my ability, and when the opportunity to write this weekly piece presented itself, I jumped. Some weeks have been easier than others, but I’ve enjoyed every second of the 21 weeks I’ve written this column.
I understand that I wouldn’t be able to do this if people didn’t read it, and for that, I am extremely grateful. I am thankful for every read, like, comment, share, retweet, and favorite. I am thankful for every player, coach, broadcaster, fan, executive, and public relations person who has taken the time to speak and work with me to make my life easier this year. I appreciate every email I receive and every person that stops and says hello at the pitch. I am thankful for Hampton Pelton, and the many people at the league office that allow me to be myself and try new things. Thank you for working with me while I figure things out.
I am so happy to be a small part of the sleeping giant that is the MLR, and I know that none of that would be possible without the support of great fans like you. I am excited for what’s to come in 2020, and I can’t wait to pick this back up next season.
What did you think about this week’s action? What did I miss? I would love to hear from any and all MLR fans as the season moves along. Feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected] with any MLR related topic that might be on your mind. I’ll address any emails in the next week’s Colton’s Corner.
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