Finally! After months of anticipation, Mike Tolkin has announced his traveling roster for the Eagles trip to Canada. This is the first time the team has been in action since playing Italy in the World Cup. From that World Cup squad, only sixteen players remain. That means there is turnover in some key areas. So with that in mind, let’s look at who made the squad.
Prop: Mike MacDonald, Shawn Pittman, Eric Fry, and Andre Liufau
Everyone of these players except for Liufau was on the World Cup roster and brings plenty of experience to the team. MacDonald is the all-time leading cap winner for the Eagles and should be the starter. Pittman, who was part of the RFU Championship winning London Welsh this last season, should be started alongside MacDonald. Fry is still growing and spent a season in New Zealand, while Liufau is an exciting prospect. He played football at the University of Utah, then some Arena Football before playing rugby in France. He is essentially a younger version of Mate Moeakioloa, who was left out. Others left out from camp include Dave Ryan (who might now have showed up), Tim Paulson, and Ray Forrester.
Hooker: Chris Biller, Derek Asburn, and Conor Coyne
Only Biller remains from the World Cup squad and should likely be the starter throughout the summer. He might be pushed by Derek Asburn though who spent the last season playing for Oxford. Asburn can play all over the pitch and will likely see time at hooker. Coyne had a successful season for NYAC and could be a surprise. Those left out of the squad include Andrew Cook and James Hilterbrand.
Lock: Brian Doyle and Tom Katzfey
Just because there are only two locks on the roster doesn’t mean that they are the only options for Coach Tolkin. Scott LaValla, Todd Clever, and Taylor Mokate can all play the position. Still, Doyle has had several strong seasons in a row and should likely get a look. Same with Katzfey. Both could start at the same time, but it’s likely Tolkin will pair one of them with someone else.
Flanker: Todd Clever, Scott LaValla, Lou Stanfill, Taylor Mokate, and Andrew Durutalo
Clever and Stanfill are the holdovers from the World Cup squad and both had excellent seasons for their clubs. LaValla also had a very strong season in France and has reportedly looked very strong in camp. He’s still young and this is probably his team in the future so now is the time to make him a permanent starter. The big question is where. He typically plays flanker for Stade Francais but can play lock. Odds are that he settles at #6. Mokate is a young player that has reportedly done well in New Zealand, while Durutalo is a strong body. Left off the roster: Kris Headlee, Cam Dolan, and Hynie Leaaetoa.
Scrumhalf: Mike Petri, Mose Timoteo, and Shaun Davies
Petri is the unquestioned starter, but who will back him up? Timoteo has been out of Eagles camp for six years but could look to make an impact once again. He’ll have to fight off Shaun Davies who had an incredibly strong season for BYU. Timoteo has the experience, but Tolkin might want to play youth.
Flyhalf: Roland Suniula, Will Holder, and Tai Enosa
Suniula was the starter at the World Cup but is really a center. That doesn’t mean he’ll make the move to center, but it’s a possibility, especially considering how well Holder has done in camp. The West Point cadet has been a revelation for Tolkin and may be the answer to the Eagles flyhalf problem in the future. He is still very raw, though, and could have a hard time standing up to international pressure. Enosa has been there before, but has not really played flyhalf for the Eagles. This may be his chance to impress. Toby L’Estrange was to challenge for the position, but broke his arm in the Super League final over the weekend.
Center: Paul Emerick, Andrew Suniula, and Seamus Kelly
Emerick and Suniula were the starters from the World Cup and both spent the season in England working on their game. Still, they pairing hasn’t always been solid. Both are big guys that can run well, but aren’t very shifty. Other players on the squad like Colin Hawley, Chris Wyles, and James Paterson can play center, as can Roland Suniula and Tai Enosa, so the position is very much up in the air. Kelly’s inclusion in the squad was a bit of a surprise. He was not in camp but was playing in the CRC. He is the only player who will still be in college next season. He is very familiar with Tolkin (who coached Kelly in High School) and could be a center of the future, but it might have to wait.
Wing: Chris Wyles, Taku Ngwenya, James Paterson, Colin Hawley, and Luke Hume
All but Hum played in the World Cup. The wing probably represents the Eagles deepest position with Wyles and Ngwenya starting on major European teams. Paterson has played Super Rugby. Hawley has been impressive late in the season for the U.S.A. 7’s team and seems to be primed to break into the team. Hume is a bit more of a mystery, but could be a surprise.
So with all that in mind, here are the likely starters:
MacDonald 2. Biller 3. Pittman 4. Doyle 5. Mokate 6. LaValla 7. Clever 8. Stanfill 9. Petri 10. R. Suniula 11. Paterson 12. A. Suniula 13. Emerick 14. Ngwenya 15. Wyles
It’s essentially the same squad from the World Cup with changes at the lock position. This team played well last year and with more time together could be a real force. The problem in the past was that unfamiliarity often meant that the ball didn’t get out to the wings as often as it needed to. That improved as the World Cup went along and should be better this summer. The younger players will get their opportunity, but it will have to come along slowly.
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