Written by Joe Harvey #MLR2023 pic.twitter.com/zUEifwcLiA
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) April 23, 2023
Having arrived in MLR at the conclusion of the 2021 season with the Arrows on the lookout for injury cover as their season in Atlanta, Georgia, came to a close, Foley has had a frustrating start to his time on the West Coast.
Playing in the team’s opening day matchup against the Rugby New York Ironworkers, the back-row forward would not be seen again until last weekend. At the time, Seattle rode their luck on the way to their victory at York Lions Stadium.
Foley would be influential as his side eventually won, consolidating third place in the Western Conference and keeping pace with their nearest rivals, the Houston SaberCats.
While Seattle is among the best in their division and with a higher points total than the entirety of the Eastern Conference, there is a feeling among the group that they have not quite hit the heights they are hoping for ahead of the visit of the Dallas Jackals this Friday night.
“I know Clarkie [head coach, Allen Clarke] and Ricky [captain, Riekert Hattingh] have done interviews where they have said we are kind of not hitting top gear,” Foley told MLR.
“I think that is still the case. There is still a lot more to come from us. We are still winning games, but we had two tough losses against San Diego [Legion] and Utah [Warriors]. San Diego beating us at home, that was a bit of a statement.
“The team is going really well, we are getting wins, and it is quite tight in the west. But, I still feel like there is still another two or three gears we can get to, and if we find that, maybe this week, then we would go into the bye week on a good high, and we come into Houston straight away when we come back.
“If we can just find those two gears above where we are right now, it would be perfect.”
That inability to consistently be in full flight was seen at times in the team’s most recent game.
While soundly beating Toronto by nine points after 80 minutes north of the border, it was by no means easygoing. The Arrows led at the break, the efforts of Foley, Hattingh, and AJ Alatimu going a long way to consolidating the victory.
Their opponents were fresh off the back of a heavy defeat to the New England Free Jacks a week prior, Seattle feeling much of the Canadians’ frustration in that first 40 minutes of play.
Depth went a long way to ultimately flying back to Washington with five points, Foley’s introduction one of the catalysts and a major positive for Seattle in their hunt for consistency.
“Watching it in the first half, it didn’t quite look like we hit that gear, which was definitely disappointing because we had a good training week, and in that first half, I don’t really know what happened. We kind of went out in second gear,” the Irishman said.
“In the second half, I think it was really good. I feel like our 23 this year, we have a pretty good squad and a lot of smart players, so having the bench come on, and I am not trying to blow my own horn here, it was nice to see us then kick into that third or fourth gear in the second half and get rid of that nervousness.
“I think we hit that gear against Toronto for maybe 10 or 20 minutes, but we are really looking at an 80-minute performance. We are really looking for that.”
In some ways, overcoming the Arrows was important for different reasons. Coming into the game, Seattle had lost to the San Diego Legion and Utah Warriors in consecutive weeks, the team has been largely unflappable, winning seven games on the bounce.
The timing couldn’t be better to pick up a win in the fashion they did. Taking on a consistently improving Dallas side this weekend, the Seawolves will have a bye week before playing the Houston SaberCats, Chicago Hounds, and Old Glory DC in quick succession.
You add to that a close to the season which includes clashes with the Warriors, New England, and San Diego, and the need to maintain a good record is at an all-time high.
“There was that feeling among the team that ‘if we lose this one, that could really be the season’,” Foley said. “It was good to get a win. Definitely.
“Back in Seattle this Friday, the team will definitely be going for five points. You saw how close Dallas pushed San Diego at the weekend. That last block, I think it is very tough. Very tough.
“We go to San Diego, we go to Houston, we go to DC, New England come here, and Chicago come here. But, as cliché and by the book as it sounds, we are focusing on Dallas. Then we can regroup after the by week and have another look.”
Everything about Seattle suggests that the side is ready to make the leap. Beaten finalists in 2022, Allen Clarke has built a side with the depth to rival any team in the league and, no doubt, pushing the squad’s competitiveness through the roof.
So, what is the goal for Seattle?
“There is an objective; it is to win the Shield,” Foley said. “I am not going to lie to you. That is the objective. It definitely won’t be an easy one because of the way the West is looking right now.
“If it were to be called today, we’d be third and going to Houston, then San Diego, so definitely not an easy task. But that is our goal, to win the MLR Shield.”
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