As Old Glory transitions into the offseason, we can start looking properly to next year. There will be some big holes in the roster to fill, what with Jason Robertson heading to France, Mungo Mason heading to Oxford, Ciaran Hearn retiring, and player-coach Callum Gibbins looking to be more coach than player. Even if they weren’t leaving, Old Glory was already short on starting-level talent. Now, if everyone returns, Old Glory will have just 35 players on the roster. We will need to get to at least 40, but ideally 45, by the time 2022 rolls around.
There are three main avenues that Old Glory will use to bolster its squad. The first will be the MLR Draft, which will be held on August 19th. Old Glory will be selecting 6th overall, unless there are trades or more expansion teams. One of Old Glory’s picks from last year, Casey Renaud, has seen significant playing time this year. Old Glory may also pull some promising players from their Capital Selects side, which draws on local club talent. We’ve seen a lot of success from local products, so this could also be a good pipeline for talent.
While both of those options should bring in promising players, it’s less likely to bring in immediate performers who will be up-to-speed on day one. Considering the top-level talent that is leaving, Old Glory will need to either poach some underutilized players from other MLR teams or scout some talent from overseas. Considering Coach Douglas’s ties to New Zealand and OGDC’s official partnership with the Scottish Rugby Union, I would expect the majority of any overseas signings to come from those two countries.
Roster construction is an art in itself, but I’m going to be using a pretty simple framework for this article.
There are two things that are absolutely essential when constructing a roster: quality and quantity. basically, you need good players, and you need enough of them to cover for injuries. Of course, there are plenty of other things that matter as well, such as system fit, culture fit, leadership, etc. At a minimum, though, you need those quality and quantity.
To assess quality, I use a basic star system to rate players. This is not a rating of their potential or where they could end up, but rather an attempt to capture where they are right now. Players can, and likely will, move from the beginning of a season to the end of it.\
It breaks down like this:
- 0-star: Project players who haven’t yet proven that they can play well at this level. They are mostly going straight out of college or local club guys.
- 1-star: Project players who’ve had some playing time, but haven’t fully worked out the kinks. They may be reasonably good in some areas, but they aren’t fully able to handle their role yet.
- 2-star: Players perfectly able of coming off the bench, or even starting if injuries require it. They don’t necessarily improve the team when they are on the pitch, but they certainly don’t hold it back.
- 3-star: Experienced players with a solid grasp of their role on the team. They are a positive difference on the team when they take the field and should be competing for starting spots.
For quantity, I think in terms of a depth chart. I divide the team into four strings:
- Starters: The first string is the largest string, because it has a full set of 15 players. These players should all be 3-star players.
- Bench: The bench should have 10 players, one at each of the major position groups: loosehead prop, hooker, tighthead prop, lock, flanker, eightman, scrumhalf, flyhalf, center, and outside back. These players should ideally be 3-star players as well, and should be challenging for starting spots. A few 2-stars in this group is okay, though.
- Backups: The backups should be another full bench of 10 players, one at each position group. These players should be at least 2-stars, as they will be on the bench if a starter gets injured.
- Projects: The projects are a collection of 0- and 1-star players who can be worked into the lineup for experience, but shouldn’t be relied upon unless there are multiple injuries in a position group. A full bench of projects is a good idea at least, but the more the merrier.
A team that meets this standard will be able to take the loss of a starter in any position without skipping a beat, as the bench should be just as good as the starters. That also means that players can be rested, or cycled through the bench, without any loss of talent. Two injuries to a position group causes more problems, but can still be covered by good players dedicated to that position without having to pull other players out of position. That sort of depth is needed in a months-long competition like the MLR.
How Old Glory is shaping up under the framework
A lot of Old Glory’s players made huge gains towards the end of the 2021 season, so this isn’t as bleak an assessment as it would have been a month or two ago. Still, there are some pretty large gaps in the roster, especially with players leaving.
|Position||Starters & Bench||Backups||Projects|
|Lopresti (1.5)||Carroll (1)|
|Renaud (2)||Beach (0)|
|Flanker||Cory Daniel (2.5)|
|Worth (2)||Mirhashem (0)|
|Outside back||Roberts-Te Nana (3)|
|Cusano (2)||Sheehy (1)|
Hooker is pretty well tied up, with Sosnene-Feagai an excellent starter while King and Lum are decent reserve options. Mo Katz hasn’t had game time at hooker, but he’s there if the injures start to mount.
On the front end, loosehead is a well-stocked position. Dever has been a great starter, and by the end of the season Iscaro was looking good as well. While I still think Dever will start, Iscaro proved in the last two matches that he is capable of starting as well.
The problem is that there is almost no one behind him. The only other loosehead listed is Vaivao, a 34-year-old local product hasn’t seen a scrum at this level. Even when there was a need for a loosehead, the coaches opted not to play Vaivao in any important minutes, which doesn’t suggest that he would be able to hold up.
We got lucky that Dever was healthy basically all season, but we can’t rely on that to be the case again. OGDC will have to pick up another loosehead prop, although because Iscaro has improved so much, we don’t need an instant starter. The draft might be a good avenue to fill this position.
At tighthead prop, Longwell has been solid. However, the quality drops quickly after that. Lopresti and Carroll came off the bench in 2021, and both struggled a lot. Lopresti was starting to figure it out by the end of the season, which is why I’ve given him 1.5 stars, but that’s me being generous. Carroll, meanwhile, didn’t play many minutes after week 4 and never quite figured things out.
An interesting twist will be the potential return of Will Vakalahi. In 2020, he had earned the starting spot at tighthead by the end of the season, but he was injured before the 2021 season. He was left off the roster, but he is still officially signed to the team. He didn’t fair much better than Lopresti or Carroll in his playing time, although that may not have been entirely his fault given that everyone was struggling that year. He will have been two years without a rugby match by the time 2022 rolls around. Those things put him in definite “project” territory, but he could pull an Iscaro and be decent by the end of the year.
Old Glory doesn’t necessarily need a new tighthead prop – the team already has four, and five would be a lot of props. Rather, they need the players already on the roster to perform. If Lopresti can make a little progress on his late-season performance and either Carroll or Vakalahi can become passable, that would be enough. If Longwell gets injured early in the season, things could get very rough, very quickly.
The locks don’t need any change, assuming that everyone returns. Naikatini, Naqali, and South are all 3-stars, and should be able to switch out with each other as necessary. Renaud has shown he can handle things off the bench. Beach is still unknown, having stayed uncapped in 2021. That makes five locks, with exactly the sort of skill distribution one would hope for. Old Glory may still want to start training up a young lock, though, as Naikatini is 35 and could retire soon.
With Mason leaving and Gibbins moving to coaching, the flanker position is suddenly up in the air. There are plenty of options, but each one has question marks. Daniel has looked extremely promising, so he should be able to start. However, he’s also only played in a handful of matches, so it’s a little too soon to be saying that he’s a guaranteed thing. Campbell has enough proven experience to join him. However, the coaches seemed reluctant to play him at times, instead opting to move Naqali to the starting flanker role. Was Campbell injured, or was he not deemed worthy by the coaching staff?
Dacoda Worth has been solid, but the same sorts of questions apply to him. Where was he when Old Glory needed a flanker mid-season? For Worth, there’s also the possibility that his job as an Army analyst may not give him the flexibility to play as often. There’s also Mirhashem, who played nine minutes in 2020 before sitting out 2021 for personal reasons, and Gordon, who was drafted but left uncapped.
There’s enough options that Old Glory could make do at flanker. However, with so many question marks, it would be good to have an experienced flanker join the team and provide some certainty.
At eight, Fa’anana-Schultz is the locked in starter, with Brown a great option on the bench. However, as with loosehead prop, we’re missing deeper options. We saw a four other players cover out of position at eight due to the lack of depth, and that’s not ideal. One of those players was Katz, who could conceivably move to that role permanently. Regardless, Old Glory should probably pick up a project eightman, either by moving Katz officially or by finding one in the draft.
Old Glory can be reasonably confident at scrumhalf. Tusitala is widely considered one of the best in the league, while both Thomas and Hartig have been good off the bench. With three good options at a generally low-injury position, there’s not much need for new players.
The most obvious gap in the roster is at flyhalf. Robertson was the uncontested starter, and pretty much the only true flyhalf on the team with any experience. Myles and Sheehy are also listed as flyhalfs, but neither has seen time at the position. Sheehy got some minutes at the end of the year at fullback and was quick-witted enough to handle things, but as a flyhalf he would be little undersized at this level. Flyhalfs play an important defensive role, often having to tackle large forwards. I’d have concerns putting Sheehy into that role, even as a backup, until he is more of a physical presence.
Dabulas has played some minutes at flyhalf, mostly covering for Robertson when he was injured. However it’s unclear whether he will permanently move to that position after settling in as an outside back. He was fine enough in the 10 jersey, but he wasn’t a dynamic playmaker like Robertson. Regardless, Old Glory will need an experienced starting flyhalf. If Dabulas moves to flyhalf, he will be decent enough for the bench role, but if he stays in the outside backs then OGDC will need another flyhalf for the bench.
OGDC is in dire need of centers. With Hearn retiring and Palamo just a couple years younger than him, a young-ish high-quality center is needed. Roberts-Te Nana can cover as a center, but it’s not his natural position, and we shouldn’t rely on him doing that regularly. He has the instincts of a wing/fullback, and it makes him a less than ideal center. Moala is a good prospect, but he has been a little raw, and so probably shouldn’t be anything more than a backup until he has more experience.
At least one new center is essential, someone in the style of Thomas Morani; a big, physical runner who can keep the defensive line honest. A second center wouldn’t go amiss, to fill either the backup or the project role depending on how fast the staff think Moala can get up to speed.
The outside backs, meanwhile, are pretty much set. Roberts-Te Nana, Dabulas, and Taikato-Simpson are all excellent in their roles, and Noble and Cusano are more than satisfactory off the bench. Sheehy, if he continues to play as a fullback, should come along nicely as a project. If Dabulas moves to flyhalf, Old Glory could do with picking up a project for the outside backs.
Old Glory’s off-season shopping list
- Loosehead Prop (0- or 1-star)
- Flanker (2- or 3-star)
- Eightman (0-star or 1-star)
- Flyhalf (3-star)
- Flyhalf (2-star) if Dabulas stays an outside back, or
- Outside back (0- or 1-star) if Dabulas moves to flyhalf
- Center (3-star)
- Center (2-star) if Moala isn’t ready to be a backup
- Center (0- or 1-star) if Moala is ready
Of course, all of this assumes that everyone who hasn’t already announced that they’re leaving is staying. We may still see some players leave before next season, and there’s always the possibility of an expansion draft for the new Dallas expansion team. Still this should give you an idea of what to look out for this off-season. The MLR Draft in a couple weeks will give us our first idea of how the coaches intend to fill the gaps, so don’t miss our coverage of that. We’ll also likely see some overseas signings, perhaps leveraging our connection with the Scottish Rugby Union. There’s a lot to look out for before next year!