Written by Joe Harvey | Photo by Davey Wilson
The Utah Warriors’ Mike Te’o isn’t on social media. So, the news that he had been named as MLR’s Player of the Year for 2021 came to his attention a little bit later than most.
On his way to one of his sister’s softball games, the USA international instead had to do a series of press interviews after being informed of the news.
Joining Utah after spending three seasons with San Diego Legion, Te’o had a year to be remembered.
Looking at the stats alone, not only did the California native score nine tries, he also carried the ball 173 times, made a league high 1566 meters with ball in hand, broke 50 tackles, made 19 offloads and ran into contact 142 times.
Along with all these statistics, Te’o’s importance to the Warriors extended far beyond actions on the playing field. Having been named vice-captain at the start of the 2021 season, his experiences as a senior international in both the shortened format of the game, as well as in the 15-a-side game, acting as the perfect sounding board to team captain Bailey Wilson.
Photo by Davey Wilson
One of the most senior members amongst the backs, Te’o stepped up in order to support Shaun Davies, backs coach, after Chris Latham resigned from his position as head coach before the season got underway, with Shawn Pittman moving up to interim head coach, helping him express himself to greater effect.
“Chris Latham recruited me,” Te’o told majorleague.rugby. “He played for Australia for many years at full-back and that is one of my favorite positions, so it was a no-brainer choosing Utah.
“When I got the text that he wasn’t re-signing, I was bummed out, but I also understood it was for personal reasons back home and family comes first, always.
“Him not signing was all okay, and I knew there was going to be a lot of work and I have been playing for quite a while now, so I just wanted to bring as much as I could to Utah from day one.
“I was calling people out if something wasn’t right, wasn’t presented right and that started from day one. We just needed to work even harder.
“I have always led by example, whether that is working hard on or off the field, but when I got named vice-captain, I knew that I needed to take on all of that experience from the captains in my past.
“I wanted to bring all of that into Utah and lead by example in everything that I did on and off the field in everything that I did, just to set the best example for each one of us.”
AN UPTURN IN FORM
Winning 10 games in 2021, Utah’s form took a large upturn from the previous two seasons. In both 2019 and 2020, Utah won just two games and while the 2020 season was unable to be finished as a result of Covid-19, the Warriors were duly rewarded for their efforts with a place in the playoffs.
Te’o was not alone in receiving postseason recognition for his efforts. Shawn Pittman was named as MLR’s Coach of the Year thanks to his efforts, the former Eagle being names as Latham’s permanent successor on the same day.
Photo by Davey Wilson
Having made the playoffs for the first time since MLR’s first season in 2018, Te’o has nothing but respect for his teammates, many of whom still work outside of rugby and who even named him as the Player of the Year, as voted for by the players, at the conclusion of their campaign.
“We have guys working on a roof all day,” Te’o explained, “working on construction and it gets hot in Utah. Then they come in and are still working hard from 6:00 to 10:00.
“In San Diego, it was full-time, you’d go in at 6:30 in the morning and then would finish up at 3:30, so I had to say to them that it was secondary at that point, even if they wanted to be there.
“Most of the guys are fathers and stuff, so I definitely had to take a step back and re-look at everything and ask what I could expect of a guy that had been working on a roof all day.
“I think that (Player of the Year) Award could have gone to any one of the guys, because they were showing up from 6:00 to 10:00 after working 8:00 to 5:00.
“Each of those guys, in my eyes was the player of the year. There was just so many guys who I could name as the player of the year for Utah.”
Having also been selected for the Eagles midseason, and playing in both Tests against England and Ireland, Te’o is currently not with the national team as the Eagles look to secure World Cup qualification as he and his wife welcome their first child to the world.
Most likely to be back with Gary Gold’s team for the Tests against Ireland and New Zealand later in the Fall, Te’o will also be pulling the jersey of Utah next year and looking to pick up exactly where he left off in 2022.
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