Written By Joe Harvey I Photos By Quinn Width and Davey Wilson
In 2022, the Seattle Seawolves ended their season watching as Rugby New York lifted the Major League Rugby Shield at Red Bull Arena.
Beaten 15-30 in New Jersey, Allen Clarke’s side had a late-season run of form to reach the Championship Final and battled hard across 80 minutes against the eventual champions.
Martin Iosefo and Dan Kriel started in the showpiece game, the former scoring a try in the fourth minute and getting the contest well underway in its opening exchanges.
Now with the new MLR season just over a month away, the two senior players spoke to Major League Rugby.
“After the final, it was a bittersweet moment,” Dan Kriel said. “We had gotten to the end and fallen at the last hurdle. But that’s professional sport. It is good to be back and back in the swing of things with a new season ahead.”
At the time of speaking, Kriel and Iosefo are two days into preseason. Those two days have largely consisted of fitness testing and getting to know the new teammates that will now call Seattle and Starfire Sports Stadium home.
Retaining a significant number of the squad that reached the Championship Final in 2022, Allen Clarke and the rest of the coaching staff have added experience aplenty in the form of Peter Malcolm, Ben Mitchell, Mason Pederson, Ronan Foley, Jake Turnbull, Conner Mooneyham, Taylor Krumrei and Charles Elton.
PHOTO BY QUINN WIDTH
“It’s very exciting to get back into things,” Iosefo said. “This is my second season with the Seawolves, and just from last year, there has been a lot of new guys in the group.
“We grew a lot last season, so eager to get into this new season and see what we are capable of doing this year as a squad.
“Right now, we are feeling pretty good, looking forward to the start of preseason, guys are looking sharp, very energized to get out there and start our cohesiveness as a group.”
Kriel and Iosefo, being two of the senior players in the squad, will be using their experience to help this new Seawolves side reach new levels in 2023.
Now 28, Kriel began his professional career in 2015 while with the Blue Bulls in his native South Africa. Iosefo brings a similar level of experience after debuting for the USA sevens in 2014.
We’re back pic.twitter.com/k3D0v3ZZCn
— Seattle Seawolves Rugby (@SeawolvesRugby) January 10, 2023
Hoping to maintain the positive momentum of 2022 into the new season, so far, things seem to be heading in the right direction for the two-time MLR champions.
“There is a really, really exciting energy,” Kriel said. “We have only been training together the last two days; and I spoke to Clarkie [Allen Clarke] and Mat Turner, and it is pretty exciting after two days to see what the team is looking like and how the boys are training.
“Everyone’s heads are in the right mental space; the management has done a great job with securing really good talent. I think 2023 is going to be a really good year for the Seawolves, and I am really amped to get the season kicked off.”
PHOTO BY QUINN WIDTH
IN THE COMMUNITY
During the offseason, Martin Iosefo’s main priority was to get his body back in order after a challenging season. Also taking part in numerous USA Eagles camps over the summer, the 32-year-old also spent his time coaching in Seattle’s Run With the Pack community outreach program.
“I love any chance that I get to give back to the community and help out any individuals with their rugby development,” Iosefo said. “It is something I will continue to do at any opportunity I get.
“During the time off, it was focused on time with youth, and it was a different way to step away from playing and still be involved with the game. There is nothing like it.”
The first camp in Portland, Oregon was a success. The biggest turnout ever for a #runwiththepack camp! Thank you to everyone that came out and to those that helped out. Rugby Oregon, @TsunamiRugbyPDX @SeawolvesRugby pic.twitter.com/yaB7UNapn0
— Martin Iosefo, OLY (@IosefoMartin) November 22, 2022
Living in Samoa for a large period of his life after being born in Hawai’i, Iosefo’s life has been surrounded by rugby since virtually day one.
While living on the Pacific islands, the wing would play alongside boys and girls of varying ages, his rugby education benefitting as a result.
Now able to impart that same enjoyment and lessons learned onto the next generation, Iosefo is enjoying challenging himself on a rugby field in a different way.
“It is a different feel to playing, where you are helping somebody pursue their rugby career, rather than being coached or just competing all the time,” Iosefo said.
“It is refreshing for me to see someone achieve something just from the little help I can help out with. That helps me as a player, as a person and keeps myself grounded and what matters more to me as a player, as a person and keeps me grounded.”
In the case of Kriel, his offseason was spent focusing on his non-profit organization, Happy Bundles, which he founded when he was still residing in South Africa. Happy Bundles is an incredible charity giving presents to children battling cancer.
Why Kriel and his wife, Candice, began the organization is very close to heart. In 2020, Candice was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer and had to undergo treatment amid a global pandemic.
With two young children, it was a challenging time for the couple, but on the other side of it, each wanted to give back.
Having seen first-hand a number of children receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the opportunity to put a smile on young people’s faces became a real passion for the young family.
PHOTO BY QUINN WIDTH
“You only really hear about cancer within adults and grown-ups, not one really speaks about childhood cancer,” Kriel said.
“Having two kids of our own, it really hit home, and we thought giving presents to kids; it lights up their faces and gives them a reason to be joyful.
“Another story behind the bundles was, my wife had just had her double mastectomy, and a friend of ours somehow found the hospital where she was staying, and they sent her this huge box of flowers.
“It was during Covid, and she said being in this hospital alone, it was a scary experience. So, receiving this huge bundle of flowers and presents, I just gave her an ultimate amount of joy.
“She said, if she experiences that, imagine what these poor kids are going through, imagine what a smile that would put on their face and impact their lives.”
We’re partnering with Happy Bundles, founded by our own @DanKriel13 and his wife, Candice!
After going through their own experience, they wanted to give back! Their mission is to bring smiles & joy to kids with cancer.
— Seattle Seawolves Rugby (@SeawolvesRugby) November 29, 2022
The non-profit was started from the Kriels’ family farm in KwaZulu-Natal, and the organization quickly gained traction. Upon the 28-year-old’s departure from Johannesburg, where he represented the Lions, the charity was also launched in the United States.
It has nearly been a year since Happy Bundles was launched in the USA. Since then, the couple has been able to network with other local charities, including Rick Rizzs’ Toys for Kids, and come up with new ideas to grow their efforts.
Intending to take the initiative worldwide, Kriel is always on the lookout for funding to aid Happy Bundles’ efforts and is excited about what the future may hold.
“What has been really exciting coming to the States is seeing all the other charities here,” Kriel said. “We have been fortunate enough to meet people here, and they have introduced us to a guy called Rick Rizzs, who is the founder of a charity called Toys for Kids and has been running it for 27 years.
“We went to this gala dinner, and I think there were close to 1,000 people there. They auctioned stuff off, and the vision we had in South Africa is completely different now.
“I know everyone says things in America are bigger and better, but it really is. It is hard as a non-profit asking people for money because it’s difficult.
“It is difficult to run fundraisers, it is difficult to run a non-profit. But we do. Eventually, we want to go worldwide, but while we are in the States, we want to touch as many kids’ lives as we can.”
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