GRR on X  GRR on Facebook GRR in Instagram GRR Vimeo Library GRR on YouTube RuggaMatrix America Podcasts Support GRR on Patreon

MLR Expansion Draft: Utah Warriors

irish rugby tours

MLR Expansion Draft: Utah Warriors

The Utah Warriors finished with a 2-2-1 record, which had them in 7th place in the MLR standings.

The team has a list of 44 players in their official team release but did not specify who was under MLR contract or Associate or practice squad contracts. That will make it difficult to determine availability in the Expansion draft.

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 team's age range was from 20-35. Ten players were 30-35 (Fetu'u Vainikola 35, Hynie Lea'aetoa 34, Saia Uhila 32, Tonata Lauta 31, Franco Van Den Berg, Huluholo Mo'ungaloa, Caleb Meyer, Joe Pikula, Kenny Scott, John Cullen (May) 30. Sixteen players are 20-25 (Michael Baska, Jaggar Tauvao-Wall, James Vaifale 25, Calvin Whiting, Viliami 'Puna' Vuli, Dominik Toluono, Blake Hohaia 24, Robbie Povey, Tyler Ringwood 23, Veremalua Vugakoto 22, Sione Tau'ataina, Nolan Tuamoheloa 21, Charlie Hola 20). The remaining eighteen players are 26-29.

The front row included South African loosehead prop Franco Van Den Berg, who along with tighthead prop USA international Angus MacLellan (5 caps) starting all matches. USA international Huluholo Mo’ungaloa (6 caps) and Kiwi Kalolo Tuiloma were replacements for all matches at #1 and #3, respectively. Alex Tucci, who was injured at the end of 2019, was working out but was not medically cleared for the season. Frikkie De Beer and Mike Payne did not play during the season.

Rounding out the front row is Fijian Veremalua Vugakoto, who started in all matches at hooker with Tongan Ricky Tu’ihalagingie the reserve in four matches. Kiwi Sama Malolo played in one match as a reserve at hooker and had a spot start at openside flanker. Tyler Ringwood was on the practice squad and did not play.

USA international lock starters were John Cullen and Matt Jensen with Viliami Puna Vuli gaining a spot start and playing in the other matches as a reserve. Saia Uhila also played in all but one matches as a reserve, gaining a spot start at openside flanker. In November Kiwi Super Rugby lock/flanker Richard Stanford was announced as signing a contract, but he was not included in the team's roster due to visa issues.

The back row included Bailey Wilson at blindside flanker and with the openside flanker splitting time between Thomas Tu’avao with two starts, Ara Elkington with one start and another as a reserve. Charlie Hola also was a reserve at flanker/No.8. This was necessitated by a pre-season ending injury to Lance Williams. South African Jurie Van Vuuren started all matches at No. 8. Caleb Meyer did not play during the season. Joe Pikula and Hynie Lea’aetoa played with the Utah Selects, with Jaggar Tauvao-Wall playing club rugby. They did not play during the season and were likely Associate contract players.

The halfbacks starters included Samoan international scrumhalf Dwayne Polataivao, the team's captain, with Michael Baska the reserve with a spot start. Danny Christensen did not play during the season at scrumhalf. Kiwi Hagen Schulte started four matches at flyhalf with Canadian international Robbie Povey starting one match, as well as two others at fullback and was a reserve in two others.

Centers included Calvin Whiting, who started all five matches (three at #13, one at #12, one at #11), Tyler Fisher played in all matches with three starts at #13. Kiwi Blake Hohaia opened the season with two starts at #12 and Dominik Toluono played in two matches with a spot start at #12.

In the back three, USA international Gannon Moore started all matches on the right-wing. Fetu’u Vainikola played in the team's first two matches, the second as a starter at #11, and sustained a season-ending injury. James Vaifale started twice at #11 and Jared Whippy returned to play in three matches as a reserve. It is good to see him back playing after breaking his leg during the 2018 MLR season. His twin brother Josh Whippy started three times, one at #11 and two at fullback. Fijian Olympic Gold Medalist Pat Vetemo Ravouvou started one match at fullback.

The following four players all did not play during the regular season. Kenny Scott made a transition from flanker to wing, Tonata Lauta and Nolan Tuamoheloa were injured, while fullback Sione Tau’ataina was part of the practice squad.

The Warriors are getting younger, which needs to continue and have established a pathway toward playing professional rugby. Many players represent the strong Oceania community and many players have a shared common experience in participating in missions from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. The team is inclusive and with players of other diverse backgrounds.

What is difficult is in determining the contract status of the players. Also, there are medical clearance issues for several players, which may not count for the Expansion draft.

Tyler Ringwood and Sione Tau'ataina were practice players. Joe Pikula, Hynie Lea'aetoa were Utah Selects and may have had Associate status along with jagger Tauvao-Wall. The MLR vs Associate status is also unknown for Danny Christensen. All four would be available if they weren't on the Associate list.

Medical clearance with not given to Alex Tucci to play, while Tonata Lauta and Nolan Tuamoheloa might be in that category. Should Lauta, who has business interests in the area, or Tuamoheloa with family ties to the area need to be included in the expansion draft, they may not sign.

That leaves Frikkie De Beer and Mike Payne available at prop, Caleb Meyer at flanker, and Kenny Scott at wing/flanker. With both Fet's Vainikola and Lance Williams having other professional ties to the area, they may be placed on the Expansion draft list to protect young players Charlie Hola and Thomas Tu'avao.


DJCoil Rugby articles by Doug Coil are also available on Facebook. Other Social Media sites to follow or subscribe include TwitterInstagram, and YouTube for interviews.