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Introspection: Seawolves Raise the Shield, as it Happened.

Photo Credit: Pink Sports Photography

When the roster was finalized in the early days of the pre-season many of us felt that Seattle would be able to contend for a title.

Curry Hitchborn as Rugby Development Director had signed significant talent to the Seawolves after having carefully scouted the majority of the roster over years from coaching the UBC Thunderbirds in the BC Premier League.  He took the best of the Seattle Saracens, the best of Canadians in the BC Premier League, and a few players from overseas to form the Seawolves.  He signed Tony Healy as the Head Coach of the Seawolves who had just won the 2017 Canadian Rugby Championship with the BC Bears.

Tony Healy's intent was play a limited pre-season schedule with the style of attack the Seawolves were to install.  The original pre-season fixture against the Vancouver Island Selects combined team was canceled in a dust up.  Then Healy's Visa was denied and he had to return to Canada.  Around the same time Connor Weyell's Visa was denied.  Many in the media wondered if Curry Hitchborn would then be able to take over as Head Coach.  Unfortunately, that was not the case due to other coaching commitments.

The Seawolves were able to play one pre-season fixture against the Prairie Wolf Pack in a private setting in front of a few hundred friends and family.  Every journalist in the Rugby Space [including myself] now doubted the Seawolves which was evident in our pre-season poll. 

Although I never doubted Phil Mack's ability as a scrum-half, I did question how he would be able to be a head coach at this level and still be proficient on the pitch.  The Seawolves took to the pitch in front a sold out home crowd at Starfire stadium the first weekend of the regular season against San Diego. They defeated the Legion in a contest that truly was not close.  In fact the management team led by CEO Shane Skinner and Force 10 Sports Management built what is the standard in match day experiences.  The Seawolves improved their event promotion week to week increasing food and beverage options.  They sold the most merchandise on match day of any team in the league to our knowledge.

When you look at how the Seawolves were so successful in selling out their home matches, Mat Turner stated on the MLR Kickoff Live Podcast: "Make your colors green and blue, the people of Seattle will come out for you." That's definitely part of that equation.  A key part to help lead the sales team was Brian Jones, the Seawolves were the only team to hire a professional ticketing executive.  This is a significant part of the story, with the strategies he helped bring to the table, the sales team at the Seawolves did something no MLR team did. They sold out their facility for all four of their matches.

When it comes to fielding a professional side in the first year of a league your team needs to be strong in the scrum.  Yet, another piece cannot be overlooked is the spine of the team.  Hooker, No 8, Scrum-Half, Fly-Half, Fullback.  The spine of the Seawolves has been one of the best in the league with Barkwill-Shepherd, Hattingh-Schirmer, Mack, Smith, Turner.  Yet they did show some issues early with the players behind Mack and Smith, yet that didn't stop the Seawolves.

The only side they struggled with was the Raptors, or was it the opposite?  The Seawolves lost a heartbreaker at home in week two and they fumbled the lead away in week nine at Glendale.

Still, not sure how many in the media thought Seattle would be able to pull this off heading into the playoffs when they faced a red hot San Diego Legion team during the first match of the MLR Championship series.  Yet it went almost like their first meeting.  Down early in the first half, but close, the Seawolves pack took the match over.

Back to the spine of the team you had veterans sprinkled around them in USA Eagle Olive Kilifi at loose head prop and former Melbourne Rebels Tim Metcher at tighthead prop granting the Seawolves a first choice and proven front row.  In the backline you had former USA Eagle Shalom Suniula at Inside Center and USA Eagle Peter Tiberio at Wing.  Former Fiji 7s Captain William Rasileka at Outside Center.  This season for the Seawolves put Olive Kilifi back into Eagles contention earning him call ups in the Americas Rugby Championship and the June Internationals.  The Seawolves identified and continued developing Vili Toluta'u who would earn his first Eagles cap against Canada.

Against the Raptors, they had lost two, but picking a victor would be ill-advised.  For the third time, and in a Grand Final, the team with a Scrum-half/Head Coach defeated the behemoth that was the Glendale Raptors.  I've watched Phil Mack for a long time now, his performance this season for the Seawolves has been some of the best rugby I've seen from him in recent years.  An individual accomplishment that cannot be overstated.  But when you speak with him he quickly praises his teammates, because the truth is, the perfect storm of adversity with this group together is why the Seawolves are the inaugural Major League Rugby Champions.

~Aaron Castro