For The Reporter
The top two teams of the inaugural Major League Rugby season met in the MLR Championship in San Diego, California at Torero Stadium to compete for the America’s Championship Shield.
The Seawolves snagged its first ever league title with a 23-19 win.
“I knew we had something special right away,” Seawolves proop forward Oli Kilifi wrote in an email.
The last two times Seattle faced off against the Raptors in regular season saw two losses, poising most to favor the Raptors heading into the final. Knowing what adjustments needed to be made against the familiar foe, Seattle was able to play their best rugby to win when it mattered most.
The Raptors kicked off to begin the match but Seattle put the first points on the board with a converted penalty by Pete Smith after a Glendale penalty in striking distance. Another shot at goal arose a few minutes later with another Raptor penalty but Smith missed to the left. The 3-0 lead was soon overtaken by a textbook Glendale try by Zach Fenoglio with a successful driving maul over the try line. Will Maggie’s kick after was successful and Glendale jumped ahead 7-3.
As if déjà vu hit the field, the Seawolves marched down into Raptor territory to match their mauling try with one of their own. Seattle won their line out and began to push Glendale back while Ray Barkwill peeled off the back with the ball to dot down a try. With a wide kick, Smith’s attempt flew true but just wide, bringing the score to 8-7 to Seattle. The first half would close with Seattle narrowly leading over the Raptors.
With a match that could go either way heading into the final 40 minutes of play, Glendale came out ready to use their forward pack to get another forward try over the line after multiple penalties against Seattle in their five meter. Will Maggie uncharacteristically missed the kick as Glendale took over the lead 12-8.
Momentum began to swing towards Seattle with a phases being strung together into Glendale territory. But quick reaction to a Seattle knock on from Shaun Davies saw the ball moved wide to the Raptors back line who flew up field. Bryce Campbell finished off the counter attack efforts under the sticks. With a shot right in front, Maggie converted two more points for Glendale, extending their lead 19-8 with just over 20 minutes remaining in the game.
With their backs up against the wall, Seattle was able to shake off the back to back Raptor tries with a pair of their own. Instead of going for another maul from their line out deep in Glendale’s end of the field, Seattle played the ball off the top as Phil Mack dished the ball to a hard running Vili Toluta’u. The ball was kept alive after Toluta’u was tackled and a big run from Riekert Hattingh gained more meters in Glendale’s midfield. The ball then made itself out to the wing where William Rasileka picked up a loose ball and took off towards the corner to touch down. After Scott Greene reviewed the try, Rasileka’s efforts were rewarded with five as Smith’s kick after was just short from the sideline.
Closing in on Glendale’s lead, 13-19, Seattle was not ready to slow down. A counter attack after an attempted exit kick from Maggie ended up in the hands of multiple Seawolves, playing quick ball that eventually caught the Raptors on their heels as Riekert Hattingh took off into open space and dove into the try zone. With a bit closer of an angle for Smith, the kick was good and the Seawolves regained the lead 20-19 within just a few minutes.
More back and forth play from both sides continued on for the next 5 minutes before Glendale was hit with an offside call just inside the 40-meter line, giving Seattle the chance to further their lead. Seattle opted for points and Smith continued to prove his kicking prowess with a strike that split the uprights to tack on three more with ten minutes left to play.
The final minutes of the match had both sides pushing hard to maintain possession but with a few missed opportunities by Glendale and Seattle’s ability to slow the game down, the game came to a close on a Glendale penalty. Pete Smith quick tapped the ball to then boot it into the stands to end the game as Seattle claimed the title with a 23-19 win.
“Obviously we are extremely proud to have won this under our circumstances”, said Player-Coach Phil Mack after the team’s MLR Championship performance. “Big credit goes to all the front office staff and the Seawolves organization, as well as all the support Seattle has given us from the first match to the final whistle. Bringing back this trophy to Seattle just reinforces the fact that professional rugby belongs in the Pacific Northwest.”
The Seattle Seawolves finish their first season with a record of 8-2 and crowned the first ever Major League Rugby Champions on July 7. Championship apparel and more details regarding a celebration back in the team’s host city to come.
“I am still letting it all sink in but it feels great,” Mack wrote in an email. “(We are) over the moon to be able to bring a championship back to Seattle.”
Mack added, he thinks the Seawolves will be a major force in the league in the coming years.
“This was a dream season for many of us,” Kilifi said. “I want to thank our wonderful fans for their support.”
Reporter Kayse Angel contributed to this article.