What a phenomenal match!
With the Seattle Seawolves trailing 23-19 and nearly no time left on the clock JP Du Plessis was called for a high tackle on Brock Staller. JP Smith kicked for touch and gave the Seawolves an attacking lineout just 10m shy of the San Diego Legion’s try line. In the lineout, Dan Trierwieiler found Riekert Hattingh and the Seawolves pack began their drive. Smith and the Suniula brothers came in to help out as the Seawolves drove the Legion across the line. Brad Tucker would be the one that grounded the ball scoring the game-winning try in the 80th minute! Staller would add the conversion as the referee blew the full-time whistle and the Seattle Seawolves defeated the San Diego Legion 26-23 to become Back-to-Back MLR Champions and raise the Championship Shield!
The first 20 minutes of the match was completely dominated by the San Diego Legion. Jordan Manihera set the tone early with a huge hit on Staller early in the match. That was the first of many massive hits throughout this very physical contest. The Legion controlled all the territory and all the possession in the opening 20 minutes. However, the Sea Wall showed why they earned that nickname and put up a great defensive stand. There were some close calls including a play where Joshua Furno was held up across the line. However, the Sea Wall would bend, but it would not break. Despite their early dominance, the Legion would come away with just 6 points off the boot of Joe Pietersen.
That 6-0 was quickly erased after the hydration break. Samu Manoa would force a knock-on with a solid hit on Furno. On the ensuing scrum, George Barton would slice through the Legion defence. Seattle had good support and the ball would travel through the hands of Apisai Naikatini who found Stephan Coetzee for the opening try of the MLR Championship! Staler would convert to put the Seawolves on top 7-6. After completely dominating the first 20 minutes, the Legion found themselves trailing as the Seawolves made the most of their first opportunity in the match. Manoa and Shalom Suniula would combine for a huge hit on Paddy Ryan as the tide began to swing in the Seawolves favour. In the 31st minute, the Seawolves would set up for a lineout just outside San Diego’s 22. Coetzee would send a short ball to a streaking Smith that caught the entire Legion defence off guard. Smith lined up in the traditional scrumhalf spot in the lineout but made a dash across the front of the lineout. He caught the ball cleanly and broke the tackle of Tai Enosa before taking it the rest of the way for a spectacular try. Staller’s conversion was once again successful and the Seawolves had a 14-6 lead.
The half would not come to a close without some controversy. In the 34th minute, Seattle’s Ben Cima and San Diego’s Conor Kearns were both looking to take a high ball. Cima would make the play but Kearns would collide with him while he was still in the air. Cima landed hard. It’s a play that definitely can warrant a yellow card, however Scott Green and the officials did not see it that way and Kearns was simply handed a penalty.
The 2nd half began with a bit of a scary moment. Tai Enosa went to make a tackle on Shalom Suniula. Suniula’s knee caught Enosa in the head and his head would also bounce off the ground as he went down. Enosa was on the ground and not moving. I don’t have any issue with the play itself. Enosa goes in for the tackle and ends up on the wrong end of it as Suniula tries to break through it. My issue with the play is that it took Scott Green 25 seconds to blow the play dead. You can see that it is a blow to the head, and you can see that Enosa was not moving. Any potential head injury, especially one where the player appears unconscious, needs to be called immediately.
In the 51st minute, the Legion were stringing together some phases and worked their way to just inside the Seattle 22. Out of a ruck, Nate Augspurger sent a pass to Pietersen. The ball then worked its way through the hands of Ryan Matyas, Will Holder, Jasa Veremalua, and it reached Nick Boyer who finished off the try in the corner. Pietersen’s conversion would bring the Legion to with 1. The physicality would continue to be a theme in this match as Holder landed a big hit on Vili Toluta’u. Toluta’u would do well to hold onto the ball in a great kick take. In the 64th minute, the Legion had a lineout just inside Seattle’s 22. They set up a rolling maul and drove that maul a solid 15m. Hooker Dean Muir was the one with the ball at the back of the maul. The maul was rolling along beautifully, and then Muir mistook the 5m line for the tryline. Muir dove for the line and grounded the ball, but it was 5m short. However, Augspurger quickly moved the ball to Du Plessis who was stopped on the tryline. The Legion would run one more phase before Manihera would ground the ball against the post and give the Legion the lead again. Pietersen’s conversion would give the Legion a 20-14 lead with just 15 minutes left. Ultimately, the try being scored anyway made Muir’s incorrect line assessment irrelevant. Seattle would answer back quickly. Coetzee made a great linebreak to put the Seawolves deep in Legion territory. They would work some phases before Phil Mack would find Hattingh who dove across the line for the try. Staller would miss the conversion, leaving the Legion up 20-19 with 7 minutes left.
These 7 minutes would be insanely dramatic. After both clubs traded knock-ons, the Legion worked the ball to the middle of the pitch. Augspurger was methodically directing traffic as Pietersen began to drop back. Augspurger’s pass would find Pietersen who then slotted an insane 40m dropgoal to put the Legion up 23-19. The dropgoal forced Seattle to score a try if they wanted to win the game and the clock only gave them 2 minutes to do it. Seattle put the ensuing kickoff deep into San Diego territory. Pietersen cleared the ball, giving the Seawolves a lineout on the halfway line. The ball would work its way across the Seawolves back line to the hands of Staller. Staller would run into Legion territory but would be hit up high by Du Plessis. Smith’s kick to touch would set up a lineout 10m away from the tryline and then this…
With that unbelievable maul, the Seattle Seawolves would defeat the San Diego Legion 26-23 and be crowned MLR Champions for the 2nd straight year! It was an absolutely incredible match! The Seawolves joined the likes of Montreal AAA, UofT Varsity Blues, and the Green Bay Packers as back-to-back Champions in the first 2 years of a trophy. The Seawolves successfully defended the Shield and remain the only team to have ever raised it.