Dallas Jackals Push Back Inaugural Season
Major League Rugby announced some disappointing news on Tuesday afternoon. The league will enter the 2021 season with 12 teams after it was announced that the expansion Dallas Jackals would be pushing back their inaugural season until 2022. In the official press release Jackals’ President, Scott Sonju cited the pandemic as one of the leading causes of this decision. The press release was also quick to point out that Major League Soccer made a similar decision, as they moved back the first season of three expansion clubs. However, that decision was made back in July 2020.
The move certainly comes as shock. The Jackals began taking deposits on season tickets just five days prior to the announcement (January 14, 2021). Fortunately for those fans that purchased them, the season ticket deposits were advertised as “no risk, fully refundable”. The Jackals announced that they signed Calvin Gentry and Patrick Medina as developmental players on January 7th, making them the most recent player signings by the club as a whole. Nese Malifa was added to the coaching staff just before Christmas. Ultimately, all signs were pointing to the Jackals playing in 2021.
A club announcing that they will not participate in the 2021 season obviously has ripple effects on the league. MLR has confirmed that they are in the process of updating the schedule. The Jackals absence will even up the two conferences and perhaps open the door for a schedule similar to the 2020s. In 2020, each team was going to play home and away against their conference and one game against each team in the opposite conference. However, perhaps they go a different route based on what is doable, or available, in a shorter time frame. We will have to wait and see.
The other major impact is what happens to all the Dallas players. You really have to feel for the guys that signed contracts for the 2021 season. Especially, the 9 former Colorado Raptors, who will now be entering their 2nd dispersal draft in the same off-season. The press release was scarce on details for the dispersal draft, but Dallas certainly has players that will garner plenty of attention.
The Raptor contingent is highlighted by centres Robbie Petzer and Chad London. Petzer holds the MLR record for most points in a game with 34 against the Utah Warriors in 2019. London has six Eagles caps and was featured in some of the early marketing campaigns by the Jackals. Their seven former Raptors teammates tighthead Macro Fepulea’i, scrumhalf Carlo de Nysschen, hooker Chad Gough, lock Kody O’Neil, loosehead Kelepi Fifita, winger Ryan James, and centre Campbell Johnstone would also be desirable pick-ups for teams across the league.
Outside of the former Raptors, the Jackals held the first overall pick in the inaugural MLR Collegiate Draft. They used that pick to select centre/wing Conner Mooneyham from Life University. Flankers Bronson Teles and Tommy Hunkin-Clark, and centre Levi van Lanen round out the remain Jackal draft choices. Flyhalf/centre Tim O’Malley was set to return to MLR after a stint with Tasman Mako in the Mitre 10 Cup. Flanker Wian Conradie has been capped 19 times by Namibia. He would have been part of a stacked back row that also was set to feature South African Pikkie de Villiers and Conrado Roura a former Argentina Sevens player. The side also featured a trio of Fiji Warriors in Tuidraki Samusamuvorde, John Vasurakuta, and Josateki Degei. The lone Canadian in the squad was Hank Stevenson. The Toronto Nomads and Laurier Golden Hawks product was set to embark on his first season of professional rugby.
Ultimately, the Jackals looked to be putting together a strong team, coaching staff (which included Allen Clarke, Elaine Vassie, and Lee Radford), and brand. It certainly is unfortunate to see them push back their inaugural season. At the moment, it is sad to see a team drop out so close to the start of the season. However, I do hope that this works out for the best in the end and we are able to welcome a stable Dallas Jackals franchise to the MLR in 2022.