Seattle’s Road to Glory
The road a team takes to defend a title is often a little bumpier than the one a team takes to win their first one.
The second trip comes equipped with a target on the team’s back and a little extra fire from each opponent they face. That added pressure proved to be no match for the Seattle Seawolves, who used a try in the final minute of Major League Rugby’s championship match on Sunday to defeat the San Diego Legion 26-23 to secure their second-straight Championship Shield.
The 2019 edition of the MLR kicked off with a rematch of the inaugural season’s championship match with the Seawolves hosting the Glendale Raptors at Starfire Stadium. After getting their 2019 campaign started off on the right foot with a 20-18 win over the Raptors, the Seawolves endured a two-match losing streak, dropping games to the Legion and the NOLA Gold on the road. As good teams do, they didn’t drop two matches in a row again all season long.
Seattle jumped back on the horse in Week 4 with a 35-30 win over the Toronto Arrows at home that kick-started a four-match winning streak that featured wins over Rugby United New York, the Houston SaberCats and Austin Elite Rugby.
Their four-match win streak was snapped with another loss to the Legion, falling this time 28-22 at Starfire Stadium. Interesting enough, Seattle also fell to the Raptors both times they played each other in 2018 before beating them in the final, which is exactly what the Seawolves did to the Legion in 2019.
The Seawolves responded from their close loss by stringing together another winning streak, defeating the Utah Warriors, winning big against the SaberCats at AVEVA Stadium, and narrowly edging the Gold during their visit to the Pacific Northwest to give them eight wins on the season before dropping an away match 29-7 to an Arrows team that would go on to win five more matches in a row to finish the seven on a seven-match heater.
With a playoff spot in their sites, the Seawolves picked up big wins on the road against RUNY and the Raptors, which marked the first time since joining the MLR that the Raptors had dropped a game at Infinity Park. They followed that performance up with a 27-27 draw with the visiting Warriors that left the door wide open for a handful of playoff scenarios.
For the Seawolves, it was simple. Take care of business against the winless Elite in Week 19 and punch a ticket back to the MLR Championship Series for a chance to defend the Championship Shield. That’s exactly what Seattle did, defeating a scrappy Austin side 38-26 to kick off the most important three-game winning stretch of the season.
To defend their title, they would have to get past two teams that they’d struggled against earlier in the season. The Arrows and the Legion accounted for three of the four losses on the Seawolves’ record in 2019, but Seattle won when it mattered most.
The Seawolves jumped out to a 23-0 first-half lead over the Arrows in the first-ever playoff match at Starfire Stadium before Toronto, playing their first road match in over two months, woke up. The Arrows closed the gap to just six points before Seattle’s dominant scrum, which was one of the best in the entire league, forced the Arrows into conceding a penalty try late in the match. Seattle escaped with a 30-17 victory and punched their ticket back to Torero Stadium to defend their title against the top-ranked Legion.
The rest is history. Despite a Joe Pietersen drop goal extending the Legion’s lead to four points with just under two minutes to play, the Seawolves took advantage of a high tackle down the touchline by creating a lineout opportunity to close out the match. Once they secured the lineout, 13 Seawolves jumped in the maul that pushed Brad Tucker over the line and down for the game-winning try. Wing Brock Staller’s extra point sealed the deal, and the Seawolves celebrated on the pitch as champions once again.
Along with an extremely deep bench, Seattle used big performances from key players like Riekert Hattingh, who finished the season with eight tries, eight try assists, and gained 1,322 meters on 197 carries while also making 219 tackles. Right there with Hattingh was Tucker, who finished 2019 with seven tries, seven try assists and gained 1,072 meters on 188 carries. He also led the MLR with 296 tackles.
While Hattingh and Tucker were the heart and soul of Seattle’s forward pack, Staller was the leader of the backs. The 223 points that he scored led all of the MLR in 2019. While most of those points came off his boot, he also contributed six tries, four try assists and gained 1,155 meters on 113 carries from his wing position. He finished the season with 113 tackles.
With a strong squad returning to the Starfire pitch in 2020, can the Seawolves make it a three-peat?
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