USA Rugby

MLR's Top International Signings Ahead Of The 2024 Season

MLR's Top International Signings Ahead Of The 2024 Season

A three-time Rugby World Cup vet and an Olympic champion are among the best signings coming from outside the United States from MLR sides this offseason.

Jan 19, 2024 by Briar Napier
MLR's Top International Signings Ahead Of The 2024 Season

Following an offseason with plenty of movement — in regard to clubs and players — Major League Rugby is seeing its teams assemble squad depth for both the preseason and looming regular season.

From young starlets to Rugby World Cup veterans and everywhere in between, some of those clubs have appeared to find gems from abroad to bolster their squads for the 2024 season.

Home to numerous international stars with a trophy-winning pedigree, MLR has continued to patrol the international rugby scene for names that could become standout players in the United States. 

On the list below, which includes a few of the top signings from outside of America, those same names may add to their already-impressive resumes when they start playing in North America’s top league.

Here’s a look at five international signings from the offseason to watch for when Major League Rugby’s 2024 season kicks off in March:

Caolan Dooley, Utility Back, Chicago Hounds

With the college football season wrapping up in the United States., here’s a source of reference for budding American rugby fans for what Chicago’s signing of Ireland’s Dooley means; think of it as if one of the top college football prospects in the country just slipped under the radar and fell into the lap of a team that could use him.

The player of the season in the top flight of the strong All-Ireland League — Ireland’s domestic national league system outside of the United Rugby Championship — the 23-year-old Dooley was instrumental in helping Terenure College secure its first AIL title, contributing to 30 points in a masterful performance in the league final last May and earning a shoutout from Ireland icon Ronan O’Gara on Twitter/X because of it. 

As Ireland’s world-class developmental system churns out star players on a routine basis, however, it meant that even with Dooley’s obvious talent, he still did not sign with a provincial side in his home country. 

That opened the door for the Hounds to swoop in and have Dooley put pen to paper, and even with talented Irish-born fly-half/USA Eagles international Luke Carty back on the squad for 2024, Dooley is near-certain to find some pitch time somewhere — maybe even by way of overtaking Carty as the Hounds’ No. 10.

Jason Robertson, Fly-Half, Old Glory DC

Welcome back to the nation’s capital, Jason Robertson. What have you got for The Flags now in your second act?

The Zimbabwe-born New Zealand native was one of the league’s best fly-halves across two seasons with Old Glory in 2020 and 2021, finishing third in the MLR in points in the latter season, before jetting off to play two seasons in France, including one year with Bayonne in the Top 14. 

Now back in the United States as DC prepares for a move to a new home venue this season at the Maryland SoccerPlex, Robertson will hope to help the club thrive in its first year under new coach Simon Cross, who left his post as the defense coach with the URC’s Dragons to take the role stateside. 

Twice a starter across 16 caps for Bayonne a season ago as he helped the club reach the Champions Cup pool stages for the first time in its history with an eighth-place Top 14 finish, Robertson seemingly is entering the prime of his career and will return to Old Glory DC as a club favorite and someone who could help the side grow and progress into the postseason. Old Glory reached the MLR playoffs for the first time a season ago.

Tomas Cubelli, Scrum-Half, Miami Sharks

The Sharks needed to make a splash as an expansion side in one of the most sports-crazed cities in the world, so how does a player with 93 international caps for a Tier 1 nation and a try scored in the Rugby World Cup bronze final sound in terms of a signing that makes noise?

Sure, the club’s deep connections to Argentina through its ownership — backed by the nation’s wealthiest man, tech billionaire Marcos Galperin — certainly helped it secure the signature of Cubelli, who appeared for Los Pumas in three World Cups, as its first signing last April. 

But star power has value (especially in a still-growing league like the MLR), and as one of Argentina’s most decorated and accomplished scrum-halves, Cubelli’s name, especially to Latin and South American rugby fans, holds big weight in a city where a hefty portion of the sporting fandom speaks Spanish. 

The starter at No. 9 for Argentina in its World Cup quarterfinal win over Wales and loss to England in the third-place match (in which he crossed over for a try in the 36th minute), Cubelli has been subject to bright lights many, many times. More will shine upon him as Miami awaits its fast-approaching MLR debut.

Ben Fry, flanker, Dallas Jackals

At one point, per the South Wales Argus, Fry had turned down a move to RFU Championship winners Jersey Reds in the offseason and was considering stepping away from professional rugby altogether. 

A few months of deliberation later, Fry has found a new rugby home in north-central Texas instead. 

A former Wales under-20 international who made 37 appearances for the Dragons, the 25-year-old Fry has plenty of room left to grow, and perhaps a move to a new league and new environment will help him transcend his game and become one of the stars for a Jackals squad looking to bounce back after finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference last season. 

Dallas needs help just about everywhere on the pitch following a dismal 2-14 campaign, and Fry, who brings plenty of high-level professional experience, may be one of the main figures who help the Jackals be spurred on in the right direction for 2024. 

A bruising player who featured most heavily on the openside for the Dragons, Fry played nearly 1,000 URC minutes for the Welsh side over the past two URC seasons and should be in the mix right away for playing time at Choctaw Stadium.

Semi Kunatani, Lock, Rugby FC Los Angeles

A gold medal winner with Fiji’s rugby sevens team at the 2016 Rio Olympics and a member of the Flying Fijians’ 2019 Rugby World Cup squad, Kunatani has been part of some big moments in recent Fijian rugby history. 

Now, as Rugby FC Los Angeles begins to create some history of its own after moving from Atlanta in the offseason, the club has brought in Kunatani to try and ensure that the moment isn’t too much for it, even in one of America’s largest cities. 

Formerly with the likes of Toulouse and Harlequins at club level, among others, the now 33-year-old Kunatani will be making his debut in MLR this season. He’ll do double duty on the club calendar with RFCLA and the Tel Aviv Heat, a Rugby Europe Super Cup team club CEO Pete Sickle also partly owns. 

With a variety of Rugby ATL transplants mixed in with newcomers, the MLR’s return to the Los Angeles market is bound to be an intriguing one. 

Kunatani, having played a major role for many years for one of the rugby world’s most exciting international sides, will assist in trying to ensure that it is at least full of entertainment.