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Utah Warriors – Adding The Rugby Ingredients For 2024

WRITTEN BY JOE HARVEY | PHOTOS BY DAVEY WILSON

In 2023, the Utah Warriors finished just three points away from the Major League Rugby playoffs.

Greg Cooper’s debut campaign as the head coach of the Warriors was fruitful, the side doubling their win total from the previous year, racking up 50 points, but ultimately finishing behind the Houston SaberCats in the Western Conference.

Coming so close to the playoffs, this offseason, Utah has been plotting how to go a step further.

Part of the Warriors’ plan includes an increased focus on fitness, as well as player recruitment, which will see the team increase not only their quality but also their depth.

Facing Rugby Football Club Los Angeles in their opening match of the season, with nearly two months to go until things get underway, their intentions are clear.

“We weren’t far away last year,” Cooper said. “Now the expectation is that we should be in the playoffs.

“That is our goal, and I think we really want to challenge. I would love to be in Utah for a home playoff.

“To do that, we are just going to have to be in the top two. Last year in the Western Conference, we were fourth by a few points. We have got to improve on that.

“In an ideal world, I would love to be in a home playoff, and then anything is possible after that.”

To lead the team in 2024, Cooper has established the leadership group that will personify the group in their efforts to attain an MLR Championship for the first time.

Paul Lasike will be the club captain, Bailey Wilson, the team captain, while both Joel Hogsdon and Caleb Makene will serve as vice-captains.

All bring varied experience from professional club rugby in England and New Zealand and being stalwarts of domestic rugby in the United States.

“Paul Lasike, I have appointed in a different role,” Cooper explained. “He will look to command a position, not just on the field, but he is club captain.

“Bailey Wilson is the team captain; he will lead the team on the field, ably helped by Caleb Makene and Joel Hodgson.

“Bailey is the worker. Everyone respects him, and he does the job.

“Above all that, in terms of leadership, is Paul Lasike. He is Warrior #1. He is a legend in the community, he leads by example. He has fought his way back from a bad injury.

“The leadership group is more refined and led by Paul. 

Due to take part in his seventh MLR season is the Warriors’ Saia ‘Uhila

An active member of the rugby community in Utah, the Tonga-born lock has over 50 appearances in the league and is back from more in 2024.

‘Uhila was one of several players re-signed by the Warriors. With Paul Mullen, Franco van den Berg, Tuvere Vugakoto, and Angus MacLellan all back for more, there is an experienced base of players.

There has even been the addition of players from the local rugby community. All are coming from the Crossroads Cup, which ‘Uhila is the chairman for, Kalisi Moli and Zak Barker are both due to make their first forays into professional rugby.

This includes the addition of second-row forwards Louis Conradie and Frank Lochore, or the arrival of Dylan Nel in the back row, while Phil Bradford and Nic Souchon will enjoy battling it out to be the starting hooker.

“Honestly, I feel that we are not too far from winning a Championship game,” ‘Uhila said.

“If I am honest, every year, we have to take what is good and add on a little bit more. 

“It is almost like cooking. When the flavoring is just about right, then you don’t need to change the whole ingredients. You just have to add on whatever is needed to make the ingredients better.

“We have some of the most physical players you could ever ask for within the squad in the years I have been here with the Utah Warriors. It is just a small tweak that we need to get right, and nobody can compete with us.”

Another key focus for the Warriors is an improvement in the team’s fitness.

It is something that the team has addressed through the recruitment of Sebastian Pearson, who arrives in Utah after two years with Rugby Canada.

As a player, Pearson represented Canada and club sides Leicester Tigers and Coventry Rugby before establishing himself as a strength & conditioning specialist.

Another piece of the puzzle: things will start coming together this week as the team assembles at Zions Bank, and the road to reaching the postseason for a third time begins.

“I am pretty sure we are going to have a good season,” ‘Uhila said. 

“It is a matter of taking this preseason to get to know the other players, get a good feel for everybody, but the goal will be the same: to raise that trophy at the end of the season.

“Are we capable of doing it? 100 per cent. I know our coaches and staff have a great plan. For us, it is a matter of buying in and executing.

The post Utah Warriors – Adding The Rugby Ingredients For 2024 appeared first on Major League Rugby.