The Seattle Seawolves enter the Major League Rugby championship game Sunday facing a team they lost to twice during the regular season.
But they’ve done that before and managed to win the league’s inaugural championship in 2018 by beating the Glendale (Colo.) Raptors.
This year, the Seawolves take on the San Diego Legion. While they lost to the California team twice this year, the games were close.
“Those were regular-season games,” said fullback Mat Turner. “Playoff games are different, and we have big-time players who have the ability to adjust during the games.”
Chief among them might be Brock Staller, who led the league in points scored with 217, including 50 kicked two-point conversions (points after touchdown in the slower game of football), 29 penalty kicks each worth three points and six tries (ball touched down over goal line, worth five points). Nearest to him is Houston’s Sam Windsor with 160 points.
Staller remembers the last San Diego game in March as a “bad kicking day.” The Seawolves came within six points of the Legion after being down 17-0 early on. It was a rare off day for Staller, who missed three conversions that would have turned the 28-22 defeat into a draw.
In February, Seattle lost 17-13, giving up a penalty try (the referee decides one team would have scored except for the penalty, so awards it and the conversion for seven points). Seattle was then caught napping when San Diego pulled off a quick throw-in from out of bounds and ran in for a try.
San Diego finished the season with a 12-3-1 record; Seattle is 11-4-1.
The 2018 championship game was held at a neutral site, but now the top-ranked team hosts the game — meaning San Diego will play at Torero Stadium, its home field.
In its semifinal game, San Diego needed a try in the last two minutes and a conversion kick from the sidelines by Joe Pietersen to get past Rugby United New York, 24-22. Seattle beat Toronto 30-17 in its semifinal.
With San Diego scoring 163 more points than all of its opponents over the season (compared to Seattle’s 106 more), the Legion will be a challenge for the Seawolves defense, known as the “Seawall.”
Richie Walker, Seattle’s head coach, has had the team review videos of games San Diego lost, including two to Toronto. He’s had to deal with many injuries but has worked in his replacements slowly to give them game time rather than dropping them in fresh, unaccustomed to the other players. He’s satisfied with how the team is ending the season and doesn’t expect much change in the roster from the semifinal game.
One stat that might be to the Seawolves’ advantage: San Diego leads the league in penalties at 182; Seattle is the lowest at 134. Walker has run his last few practices with a referee, trying to keep penalties to a minimum.
Staller likes the way the Seawolves played Toronto in the semis: Getting the ball to the right area of the field with strategic kicking, putting pressure on early to score. A good “kicking day” like that would help.
Have the Seawolves figured out a way to beat the Legion?
Walker says, “I’ll let you know Sunday.”