Major League Rugby Week 9 Preview: Takeaways Ahead Of Halfway Point

Major League Rugby Week 9 Preview: Takeaways Ahead Of Halfway Point

Following the conclusion of Week 9’s matches, all 12 MLR teams will have played eight games, or exactly half of the 16-game regular-season slate.

Apr 26, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 9 Preview: Takeaways Ahead Of Halfway Point

The weather is warming up across North America, and so is the rugby within it. And we still have half of a regular season, plus the high-octane playoffs, left to go.

With no signs of slowing down, Major League Rugby will be full speed ahead for the months of the season left to go, with playoff spots left to play for and scores left to be settled.

What’s left to say? Well, what we can muster heading into Week 9 is down below.

Here’s a look at Week 9 of the Major League Rugby season, part of FloRugby’s ongoing coverage and analysis of the top professional rugby league in the United States :

Halfway Home

Following the conclusion of Week 9’s matches, all 12 MLR teams will have played eight games, or exactly half of the 16-game regular-season slate. 

With that landmark on the horizon, what have we learned about the state of the league? Quite a bit, actually. 

Of the two conferences, the Western Conference is holding up to early indications that it’s the stronger division; if you put the West’s three top teams (the Seattle Seawolves, Houston SaberCats and San Diego Legion) into the Eastern Conference table with the same amount of points they have, all three would be ahead of the East-leading New England Free Jacks, the defending MLR champions.

That’s not to say that New England has been lacking in its repeat bid, however, and far from it.

Though a setback in Week 8 in a potential playoff final preview against the Seawolves hurt, wins against Houston, Eastern Conference rival Chicago Hounds and others, have proven the Free Jacks’ mettle and should make them contenders down the stretch once more, barring a total collapse of team chemistry. 

And speaking of Chicago, the Hounds have been one of the best surprises of the MLR this season. They are on bye with Seattle this week, sealing their spot as the East’s No. 2 team in the table at the halfway point, whereas the upstart Dallas Jackals also are hanging tight in the brutal West and return from a bye to visit the expansion Miami Sharks this week. 

Between Miami, fellow newbie Anthem Rugby Carolina and Rugby FC Los Angeles (which moved from Atlanta last offseason), the Sharks are faring the best of the trio right now and are the closest to a playoff spot on 12 points in the East entering Week 9, picking up a huge win over the NOLA Gold over the weekend to give them a momentum boost. 

The South Florida club could catch fourth-place Old Glory DC in the standings and race for a playoff spot with a second straight victory, with The Flags playing the in-form, playoff-chasing Utah Warriors (more on them in a bit) next. 

Utah On the Up?

Told you we’d hone in on Utah a little bit after the past few weeks that it’s had. The team certainly deserves the attention ahead of this weekend, especially after the performance it put up against the Legion in Week 8. 

Failing to make much headway in the loaded West early in the season, with injuries not helping matters, the Warriors picked up a reputation of being a team that was close, but no cigar, in its defeats, with all four of their losses this season coming by 10 points or less (including to West favorites Houston and Seattle). 

But this past weekend, the highlight victory finally arrived. 

San Diego had a five-match winning streak before Utah stunned the Legion in a 33-32 nailbiter in Southern California, with fly-half Joel Hodgson’s 76th-minute penalty kick — three of his 18 points — proving to be the difference late. He was one of three Warriors rewarded with spots on the MLR First XV for Week 8, along with winger Michael Manson (who notched a brace) and fullback Caleb Makene (who had a first-half try). 

With two wins in their past three matches, as they also defeated Anthem Rugby Carolina earlier in the month, the Warriors have a major opportunity to set themselves up for a strong second half against Old Glory on Friday night in front of home support at Zions Bank Stadium, sitting just one point behind Dallas for the fourth, and final, playoff spot in the Western Conference. 

Utah hasn’t made the MLR playoffs since losing in the Western Conference final in 2021, so if it hopes to make a triumphant return to the postseason, taking care of business in winnable matches, such as what's ahead in Week 9, will be of the utmost importance.

Gold’s Shine Gone?

The NOLA Gold started their 2024 campaign with three wins in their first four matches, looking like an Eastern Conference contender, even as the MLR original had yet to make a playoff appearance in its history. 

After three straight losses, including a 42-27 loss to Miami at home last week, in which the wheels looked like they had totally fallen off, there’s suddenly some big trouble in the Big Easy. 

It was a momentous victory for the Sharks, as the expansion side breathed new life into its season, but disaster for NOLA, as it has now given up at least 33 points in each of its past three matches, transforming what had been looking early on like a sturdy defense — a unit that held Old Glory to just six points on opening weekend — into a leaky group that was run all over by Miami on its own turf. 

There’s a quick chance for recovery for the Gold, however, and they need it; Anthem Rugby Carolina is on the docket in Week 9, a little under two months since the two sides met for the first time this season, which ended up being a 34-19 NOLA win. 

Five Gold players scored tries in that game at The Gold Mine, and the team now will get New Zealand-born prop Jarred Adams back for selection following a three-match suspension due to a red card picked up against Dallas in March. 

NOLA (third in the East on 16 points) should be favored to take Round 2 against the development-focused Anthem, which is yet to win a match, but hasn’t lost by fewer than 14 points. But we’d be lying if we said there wasn’t a little bit more added pressure for it to perform after its stinker of a round last week, and the likes of Old Glory and Miami breathing down its neck in the Eastern Conference table.

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