Mack, who helped lead the Seattle Seawolves to the Major League Rugby title last year, is one of six nominees for Male Sports Star of the Year.

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Phil Mack, who helped lead the Seattle Seawolves to the title in Major League Rugby’s initial season last year, says he was a bit surprised to be nominated for one of the top awards to be handed out Thursday night at the 84th annual MTRWestern Sports Star of the Year banquet.

But it certainly wouldn’t surprise our friends north of the border, where Mack, 33, is a rugby legend. He has played on the Canadian national team for a decade, leading the team to two Pan American Games gold medals. He was captain in November when the Canadians defeated Kenya, Germany and Hong Kong to earn a spot in this year’s World Cup in Japan.

“It’s a pretty humbling experience when you look at the list of other nominees, and see my name up there,” Mack said, referring to the Male Sports Star of the Year nominees, who also include Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett, Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger, UW linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew and Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer.

“For me, it’s great to just put rugby on the map. Maybe a few more people will take notice to what rugby is, and to get this far (nominated for the award) is a win in itself.”

Mack, a member of Toquaht Nation on Vancouver Island, first started playing the game in the 10th grade in Victoria. He took to it immediately, and a few years later, he was playing on the Canadian U-19 national team.

Mack, 5 feet 7 and 170 pounds, is a scrumhalf, a position that links a team’s forwards and backs. Scrumhalfs tend to be smaller than most players, very athletic and leaders on the field. They are like the point guard on a basketball team and the quarterback on a football team.

“I think that’s a fair assessment,” Mack said. “The expectation is that you pass the ball after every breakdown, and you’re basically chasing the ball all around and you have to be organized enough to know what is going on.”

Mack has always been driven to promote his sport. Five years ago, he and two friends formed Thunder Rugby, a youth program in British Columbia aimed at growing the game in Aboriginal communities. Mack coached the program for a few years and is still in close contact with the program but had to quit when the opportunity arose to join the Seawolves last year as a player and assistant coach.

It was another chance for him to help expand the game, this time in a new country, but in a place so close to Victoria.

“Our team is a great example of what can potentially happen (in Major League Rugby),” said Mack, whose team plays in front of packed crowds at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila. “We have some of the most enthusiastic fans I have seen anywhere — and that’s a testament to the sports fans in Seattle. In general in the USA, I think it’s just a matter of exposure and getting people to games or watching it on TV.”

Mack, who will maintain the dual role as player and assistant coach for the Seawolves, said the team is capable of successfully defending its MLR title. The Seawolves are 1-1 this season after losing their last game, on the road at San Diego.

“It’s early in the season, and we’re not giving up after losing one game,” he said. “We have a number of things to fix still, and as the season goes on, every team will get better, us included. I definitely think we have it in our armor to make a good run at this.”