The Seawolves' 2020 Backline Will Be Lethal
The Seawolves' 2020 Backline Will Be Lethal
Like their forward pack, the Seawolves' backline is once again loaded in 2020.
First, we looked at the Seattle Seawolves' monstrous forward pack. Now, let's have a peak at the boys who will be running the show in the back line for 2020:
Jope Motokana | Scrum Half
Fijian-born, Seattle-raised halfback Jope Motokana stays in his hometown to join the Seawolves' ranks for 2020. Following his high school days playing for youth club Seattle Vikings, Motokana impressed mightily at the club level, playing primarily for the Seattle Saracens, but making a stop in Minneapolis to play with Metropolis rugby.
He also played for the Sacramento Express in the lone year of PRO Rugby in 2016, and this past summer led the Westside Ronins to the quarterfinals of the USA Rugby 7s National Championships, where he was named to the FloRugby Dream Team.
JP Smith | Scrum Half
Last season's MLR Final Most Outstanding Player is back running the ship for Seattle again in 2020. In his first year on board, Smith took over the starting gig at halfback from Canadian legend Phil Mack, which is a testament to his abilities as both a player and a leader.
Hailing from Queenstown, South Africa, Smith came up through ranks at the Blue Bulls, making his Currie Cup debut with the first team in 2015. Since then, he has played for the South Africa U-20s team at the Junior World Championships, for the Free State Cheetahs in the Currie Cup, and for the Southern Kings in the Guinness Pro14. A strong kicker, great decision maker, and a genuine threat with ball-in-hand, Smith is as dynamic a scrum half as you'll see in Major League Rugby.
Ben Cima | Fly Half
Young fly half Ben Cima was born in Argentina, but grew up in the D.C. area, where he was a standout for national high school powerhouse Gonzaga. Cima was selected to the H.S. All American team in 2012, 2013, and 2014 before moving on to college at the University of Maryland. He played briefly for the university before joining club side Rocky Gorge. His performances caught the eyes of more selectors, and he was chosen first for the Junior All Americans and subsequently for the USA Men's Eagles senior side, for whom he's now accrued 11 caps.
After a brief spell with the San Diego Legion, Cima joined the Seawolves for the 2019 season, where his kicking and decision-making abilities saw him lock down the starting fly half role en route to the title. At just 23 years old, Ben Cima is still just getting started on the road to a long and successful career.
Ryno Eksteen | Fly Half
South African fly half Ryno Eksteen comes to the Seawolves with an impressive resume for his 25 years of age. The former Blue Bulls academy product stole the show at the U-18 craven week, scoring the most points of any player in the tournament and earning a call up to the South Africa Schools team.
At the senior level, Eksteen has played for the Stormers in Super Rugby, and for the Cheetahs in both the Currie Cup and the Guinness Pro14. He figures to be an important piece to Seattle's quest for a third straight MLR Shield.
Scott Dean | Fly Half
Another local boy, fly half Scott Dean grew up in the Seattle area, where he picked up rugby playing for the Liberty Patriots as a youth. Deciding to stay close to his roots, Dean enrolled at Central Washington University, where he became one collegiate rugby's best fly halves, in both 7s and 15s.
Dean's impressive showcases in college earned him call-ups to the USA U-20 All Americans in both 2014 and 2015, and eventually an opportunity to play overseas for Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. Dean was also part of the WAC 7s team that took home the 2019 National Championship.
George Barton | Center
One of the top young prospects in Major League Rugby, 22 year old Canadian center George Barton comes from a strong rugby pedigree. His father and his brother each represented the Canadian national team, and George has followed suit, capping 7 times for the Canada U-20s, and twice more for the senior men's side.
Barton became a regular fixture in the Seawolves backline a year ago, combining his sheer power with quick feet to consistently get over the advantage line.
Joey Iosefa | Center
A multi-sport athlete growing up, Joey Iosefa earned himself a scholarship to play football at the University of Hawaii, where the running back finished 5th in school history in both yards and touchdowns. His stellar college career landed him an NFL contract, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him in the 7th round.
Iosefa played two years in the NFL, his best performance coming as a New England Patriot in a 33-16 win over the Tennessee Titans where the big man rushed for 51 yards on 14 carries. After finishing out the 2016 season with New England, he decided to put the helmet aside and return to his rugby roots, where he joined up with the Houston Sabercats for the inaugural MLR season in 2018. He came to Seattle for the second year of MLR, playing primarily for the Seattle Saracens, but appearing twice for the Seawolves.
Ross Neal | Center
Coming by way of England, 24 year old center Ross Neal is about as big a backline player as you'll ever see. At 6'5 and 260 lbs, Neal is an anomaly in the centers and in the back three, where he has played for the London Scottish of the RFU Championship, and then for the Wasps in both the Gallagher Premiership and in the Heineken Champions Cup.
Having played for one of the best teams in the world -- the Wasps -- Neal is one of the most exciting new signings in the MLR, and is looking for a fresh start in Seattle to reignite his love for the sport.
Shalom Suniula | Center
One of three Suniula brothers -- Andrew and Roland the others -- to serve his time in the Eagles jersey, Shalom Suniula has been one of the best to do it in America. Originally from Auckland, NZ, Suniula has represented the United States 18 times in XV's rugby, with another 41 tournaments for the 7s team under his belt. Since coming into the Seawolves setup, Shalom has been one of the key pillars to the team's success as both a captain and a playmaker.
Off the field, Suniula -- like his brothers -- works extremely hard to foster the development of the sport at the youth and at the club level. There's no reason to believe he won't be at the forefront of Seattle's successes again in 2020.
Brock Staller | Back Three
Last year's MLR points leader Brock Staller returns for a third stint with the Seawolves, where the wing has become one of the key figures in arguably the league's best counter attack. A Vancouver native, the versatile Canadian went up through the ranks in British Columbia, playing club rugby for Meraloma Rugby Club, then representing the BC province, as well as the University of British Columbia.
Unsurprisingly, Staller also led the British Columbia Rugby Union Men's Premiership in points scored on two separate occasions before he signed on with the Seawolves. The 27 year old has racked up 15 caps for the Canadian national team, with more probably on the way.
David Busby | Back Three
Another fascinating new signing comes in the form of Ulsterman David Busby. The Ulster academy product enjoyed a successful age-grade run with the Northern Irish province before shipping off to Australia to play for Brothers Rugby Club in Queensland. In 2015 Busby cracked the Ulster senior side, scoring a try on debut in a Guinness Pro14 clash against Zebre. Having also spent time with the Ireland 7s team, Busby is a pacey threat with the ball who can also set up his teammates.
Harry Davies | Back Three
As if one enormous Gallagher Premiership back -- Ross Neal -- wasn't enough, the Seawolves have also brought in former Cardiff Blues and Bath Rugby fullback Harry Davies as well. The Welshman came up through the academy at the Cardiff Blues, ultimately earning 5 caps for the welsh region. Following his switch to Bath, for whom he made 7 appearances, Davies swapped shirts again to represent the Bedford Blues of the RFU Championship, home of current Eagles full back/fly half Will Hooley.
Jeff Hassler | Back Three
One of Seattle's late-season additions last year, Hassler returned from a 9-month sabbatical period to provide a major boost to the Seawolves' run for a second straight title. The Canadian winger is one of the best North Americans to ever venture overseas, having won 72 caps for the Ospreys and scoring 24 tries for one of Wales' very best teams.
Hassler surprised everyone a year ago when he decided to call it quits after 5 years in Wales, opting to pursue other interests outside of rugby, like sailing. The 27-cap Canadian international began his playing career in Calgary at Holy Trinity Academy, before playing collegiate Canadian football for the University of Saskatchewan.
Mat Turner | Back Three
It's hard not to love Seattle fullback Matty Turner. The South African-born flier is arguably the league's most electric player, particularly on the counter attack. Despite his smaller frame, Turner was one of the best school boy rugby players in South Africa, and eventually made it onto the Western Province U-21 team. He was also drafted into the U-20 Springboks player pool in 2008, but never got picked for the Junior World Championships.
He then decided to cross the pond and join English Premiership side Bristol, for whom he was a consistently good performer in the back three. Unfortunately, Bristol was relegated to the RFU Championship during Turner's one season, and so he returned home briefly for a one-game stint with newly-formed South African franchise the Southern Kings.
And that's when his career trajectory took a huge turn for the better. In 2009, Turner qualified to represent England 7s, and from that point on he became one of the best 7s players in the world. In five years, he logged 34 tournaments on the 7s World Series, scoring 92 tries. His 37 tries in 2012 led the whole series, and for his efforts Turner was nominated for IRB 7s Player of the Year.
Since then, Mat Turner has coached the Sri Lanka 7s national team, competed for Western Province in the Vodacom Cup, and become a regular on the United States club and invitational 7s scene.
Matt Brennan | Utility Back
Another one of the many local Seattle products to rise to prominence, 24 year old Matt Brennan played 6 seasons for local youth club Seattle Vikings before playing four years of high school rugby for the Washington Loggers. After being named a High School All American, Brennan moved on to play for Arizona State University, where he captained the side for three years.
Upon graduation, Matt moved back to Seattle and joined the Seattle Saracens, for whom he impressed with his play in the British Columbia Rugby Union Men's Premiership. His good form saw him get into the Seawolves extended roster, and following a spring spent playing in New Zealand, Brennan could become a fixture in the Seattle lineup moving forward.
Sitiveni Tamaivena | Utility Back
Son of former Fijian 7s international Levi Tamaivena, Sitiveni Tamaivena grew up in Renton, Washington, playing high school rugby for the Eastside Lions. Though Sitiveni excelled at rugby as a youth, he was also a standout football player and earned a scholarship to play at Mt. San Antonio college. After three strong years there, Sitiveni transferred to the FBS (highest level of college football) to play his senior year for the New Mexico Lobos.
After college football ended, Siti returned to the Great Northwest and joined the summer 7s side Westside Ronins. A stellar season for the Ronins in 2019, where they progressed to the national quarterfinals, caught the eyes of some Seawolves coaches and the big man was brought into the squad ahead of this 2020 season.
Suliasi Tamaivena | Utility Back
If this one looks familiar, it's because he's the twin brother of fellow Seawolf Sitiveni! Like his brother, Suliasi thrived at both rugby and football growing up and also attended Mt. San Antonio College on a scholarship to play football. However, whereas Siti transferred to New Mexico for his senior year, Suli went on to play for a different FBS school, Utah State.
Upon graduation, he too returned to Washington to play for the Westside Ronins, also impressing the Seawolves staff enough to score a place in the 2020 squad.
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