When it comes to the new Major League Rugby loop, which was into its third season before a COVID-19 shutdown, one team has been the shining star to-date, both in terms of on-field performance and fan support, and that has been the Seattle Seawolves.
Regular readers are going to immediately ask themselves why I am writing about Seattle, since I tend to staunchly follow teams based in Canada, and that is indeed true.
In the case of the Seawolves I am less a fan, and more an observer. The Toronto Arrows were not a team in year-one of MLR, but I certainly wanted to watch games, so tuned into every match I could find online. Seattle caught my eye because there were a number of Canadians playing key roles, including player coach Phil Mack and Brock Staller who was notable as the team’s kicker.
Kickers stand out in rugby because they get more close-up time on video than other players, so they become quickly identifiable on the field, and because missed converts and penalties are often the miscues most remembered in a tight contest lost.
So I began following Seattle, and they went to the championship final, and won, so I saw quite a bit of them.
In year two the interest lingered even as I became a true fan of the Arrows. It hurt that the Arrows fell in the playoffs to Seattle, but again with Canadians playing big roles, including Staller’s kicking, the Seawolves repeated as champions.
Which brings me to my reaching out for an opportunity to interview Staller, who hails from Vancouver, where he went to Kitsilano High School and played amateur rugby at Meraloma’s Rugby Club.
“I started playing rugby when I was 14,” said Staller, adding the sport was one “all my friends were playing.”
Staller said in his youth he played a range of sports; soccer, golf, basketball, but once he started with rugby it began a journey toward it being the sport of choice.
Staller noted he was a big kid in his youth, so adapted well to the physicality of rugby, and he found himself excelling. He represented Vancouver in regional play, British Columbia in provincial play and graduated from the University of BC’s men’s varsity rugby program. For two years in a row, Brock was the leading point’s scorer in the British Columbia Rugby Union Men’s premiership.
Fast forward a bit and we find Staller emerge on the international stage for Canada. In 2016, Staller was called to represent the Canadian men’s national team during the Americas Rugby Championship. He earned his first cap in a win against Brazil, started in the non-capped loss to Argentina XV, and closed out the tournament with a start at fullback defeating Chile.
The first international game is one Staller notes is a career highlight, one which inches ahead of the MLR championship based on the pride that comes with wearing a Team Canada uniform.
“The first cap with Canada,” he said when asked about a best memory, but then added the championship “is pretty close, the second one as well.”
As for the MLR, when the league was announced and a team in nearby Seattle among the inaugural teams, Staller said he was quick to reach out to let the Seawolves know he was interested in a chance to play.
Obviously he made the team scoring three tries, 12 converts and seven penalty kicks in year one.
As for the support the team received “to be honest it didn’t surprise me,” said Staller, noting the ownership worked to create a sort of family atmosphere for fans, and that close knit approach manifested itself on the field where the team came together under player coach Mack who was thrust into the leadership role himself.
Staller also noted another Canuck Ray Barkwell, a veteran for Canada, was a steadying influence for the Seawolves in year-one as they worked to find their personality as a team.
With two championships to defend the 2020 season was supposed to be a big one for the Seawolves, so when the season was cancelled, it hit hard.
“It is quite disappointing,” said Staller, adding the Seawolves were just starting to come into form. “It’s sad it didn’t continue on.”
That is one thing about rugby, noted Staller, it is a true team sport.
“Everybody plays a role. It’s one sport where it takes 15 guys,” he said.
Beyond the Seattle wins, Staller sees the MLR as a huge step in growing the sport in North America, and building the talent base from which the U.S. and Canada can draw for international play.
“It’s huge,” he said, tipping his hat to the Arrows and its high level of Canadian talent getting experience they need to play internationally.
So the burning question for many 15s rugby fans in this country is whether there will be MLR expansion in B.C.?
“I honestly couldn’t tell you (when),” said Staller, but added “I do believe in time there will be in Vancouver or Victoria.”
A team on the west coast would take “all the province to make a team,” reasoned Staller, and B.C. is a hotbed for the sport in this country.
Would a team lure Staller back to his country?
“It definitely would be a dream if I’m still playing,” he said.
I for one hope Staller gets his dream soon.