MLR Expansion Draft: New England Free Jacks
MLR Expansion Draft: New England Free Jacks
The New England Free Jacks were one of the three expansion teams in 2020 and played an exhibition season in the Spring/Summer against Irish Pro14A-sides in the Cara Cup.
The team opened with a decisive win over Rugby United New York but then lost four matches to finish in 9th place as the MLR season ended due to COVID-19.
Editor's Note: Our list of unprotected players is our list alone—not an official team list of unprotected players but our speculation based on what we know.
The age range of the team's 38 players is from 22-35 as Jon Kokindais 35 in May. In addition to Kokinda, six other players are 30-34 (Hatakeyama34, Purpura 33, Dawai32, Stryffeler, Rinakama 31, Beard 30). Sixteen players are 22-25 (Poasa Waqanibau, Collins, Adams, McCusker, Thompson (May) 25, McNulty, Courcoul, Guilliman, Engelhart, Wilson 24, Poland, Mikesell, Hinshaw, Newcomer 23, Hundt, Ciquera 22). The remaining 15 players are 26-29.
It is unclear about the status of Mystic River's Stephen Dazzo, Jon Kokinda, and Ahmad Harajly during the season. Kokindahad a front-office role, may have returned to Mystic River along with Stephen Dazzo, and Ahmad Harajlydid not play in preseason or regular-season matches. Diego Maquiera, Pago Haini, and Anthony Purpura also did not play in the regular season but had injuries. All but Purpura, will not likely be protected.
The team utilized six props during the season with former Eagle Anthony Purpurainvolved in coaching clinics while injured. The team's choice of starters was Kiwi Donald Brighouse, who played both looseheadand tightheadprop, Japanese international Kensuke Hatakeyama at tighthead, and French loosehead Simon Courcoul. Tongan international loosehead Tolu Fahamokioa was a reserve in the 4th week of the season, Kyle Ciquera was a late signing ahead of the regular season and played the first three matches in the reserves at tighthead and then at loosehead. Quentin Newcomerwas the reserve tighthead in weeks 2-5.
Sean McNulty is the starting hooker with Steve Hinshaw a reserve. Diego Maquieira played previously with the Houston SaberCats last season but did not play in regular-season matches with the Free Jacks. McNulty was born in London from Irish parents and lived in New York during much of his youth.
Locks include Canadian international Josh Larsen, Jackson Thiebes, and Irish players Conor Kindreganand Ronan McCusker. Conor played in all five matches, starting three times, Jackson started three matches, and Ronan was a reserve in one.
The back row included starting openside flanker Zack Stryffeler, with Fijian Naulia Dawai starting at blindside flanker in Las Vegas and then playing No.8. Brad Hemopo, another Kiwi, opened the season at No 8 before playing in the reserves, along with a start at blindside flanker. Owen Hundtwas an opensideflanker reserve with Evan Geistalso playing two matches at flanker. Before the fifth match, Ben Landrywas signed and immediately started at #6. He can also play at lock.
Three scrumhalf's were utilized during the season with Ireland's John Poland claiming the starting role. Hong Kong's Oliver Engelhart and Erik Thompson split time on the reserves.
Erik is from Rancho Santa Margarita, California, and graduated from U.C.L.A. If he requests not being protected due to wanting to play with Los Angeles, he would likely be drafted by the Loyals. All three can contribute to the team's success. It Erik is not protected, the team would probably look to draft a scrumhalf in the MLR Collegiate draft and protect another player.
Ireland's Tadhg Leaderand France's Timothée Guillimin split starting time at flyhalfafter Leader sustained a concussion during the first week of the season.
Centers included New Zealand's Sam Beard and Liam Steel starting at #12 and #13, respectively. Sam started in all matches, while Liam started three. Fijian Poasa Waqanibau started at #13 in Steel's absence and played on the right-wing during the other matches. He was a key acquisition. Peceli Rinakama was a reserve utility back and Ahmad Harajly, who played for the USA Selects and the Eagles Sevens team, and after playing in the Cara Cup, played rugby league for Lebanon in the Rugby World Cup 9s in October 2019. He did not play during the season and it is unclear about his status.
Both Deion Mikesell and Danny Collins also started on the wing. Beaudein Waaka was the preferred fullback, however, he missed playing time after week one. Mitch Wilsonstarted at fullback in his absence and also played on the wing. Christian Adams also played one match at the wing as a reserve.
Either Fahamokioaor Ciquera will likely not be on the protected list. Purpura is a loosehead prop, a coach, and from Maine. Despite age considerations and ties to the area, he's been one of the marketing faces of the Free Jacks. Kyle Ciquerais from the U.S. at 22, plays both loosehead and tighthead, and spent time with Sumner RFC in New Zealand last Summer. Fahamokioais another loosehead, so will the team's investment in his visa be the determining factor or with Purpura's return in 2021, will protecting a local Mystic River player be preferred?
The New England Free jacks will not protect Stephen Dazzo, Jon Kokinda, Ahmad Harajly, Diego Maquiera, PagoHaini, Evan Geist, Christian Adams, and must choose between Tolu Fahamokioaand Kyle Ciquera. For reasons listed above Fahamokioa, will likely be unprotected and drafted by Los Angeles. Dazzo, Kokinda, Maquiera, and Adams also have ties to the area.
The team will be looking to build team depth, add another center, and look to sign an experienced prop by 2022.
DJCoil Rugby articles by Doug Coil are also available on Facebook. Other Social Media sites to follow or subscribe include Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for interviews.