You are here

Head Coach Mike Tolkin would have very much liked to see some players in action at the Showdown – players such as Patrick Latu, Liam Murphy, Phil Thiel, Mike Te’o, and Adam Siddall. But, alas, it wasn’t to be. Tolkin made it plain that he thinks the lack of that game isn’t a step backward so much as a return to the starting point.




We do seem to have an Eagles team that is ready to launch. Tolkin knows who his players are going to be, for the most part, and his coaching staff is in lock-step behind him.

The entire program seems to be doing a good job of spreading responsibility among the coaches (a classic signal of confidence from the head guy), and among the players (a great way to get buy-in).

Players are excited about the assemblies to come, and the excitement is starting to be felt among the fans.

Look at the games to come: a non-cap matchup with Canada, Ireland, Tonga, Fiji, Japan, and then twice with Canada. Is it unreasonable to think they could 6-1 in those games? No, it’s not. Now, 6-1 would be unlikely, but it’s possible.

To get there, though, the Eagles will need depth. The front-line group:

Pittman, Biller, Fry, Doyle, Stanfill, Manoa, LaValla, Quill, Basauri, Clever, Petri, Shaw, Davies, L’Estrange, Suniula (A), Emerick (healthy), Ngwenya, Hume, and Wyles

Is a very, very good group of 19 players. But not all of these players are guaranteed to be available for every game – many we know will take games off – so Tolkin has been busy looking for backup.

The Eagles still need help up front. Will Mike MacDonald and Mate Moeakiola have enough juice to give 80 minutes? That is probably the biggest question for them. Shawn Pittman and Eric Fry are the front-line guys now.

Obviously Tolkin is looking to work Nick Wallace and Jordan Bouey, both props at St. Mary's, into the team. But that's asking a lot, and perhaps a rookie-veteran mix might work.

Three hookers who can play prop could also provide depth: Zachary Fenoglio, Patrick Latu, and Phil Thiel, who is back playing union.

Tolkin is not done looking for depth here. Maybe someone like former U20 Travis Whitlock is worth a look here.

At hooker, the Eagles are in the same position, with a front-line guy, in this case Chris Biller, and then a question-mark. Derek Asbun appears to be more of a flanker than a hooker, so thoughts turn to Fenoglio, Thiel, Latu, and certainly young Cameron Falcon. If anything has to be done with the USA team, securing a 2nd and 3rd hooker has to be right near the top of the list. And, given the importance of the lineout in the Eagles' plans, I'd bet on a dependable thrower, and that would be Falcon.

Tolkin needs a backup lock, and there's reason to expect him to look at 6-5 Matt Trouville when he becomes USA-eligible at the end of this year. Right now, aside from Brian Doyle and Lou Stanfill, no one has really blown away the competition. Samu Manoa is certainly an option at lock, but someone like Graham Harriman or Will Haydock or someone else has to raise his game. Don't forget Tom Katzfey and Nate Brakely.

No problems at back row, so it will require some really top-notch performances to break into that fraternity. It is possible, however, because Tolkin might look at his players and think "Peter Dahl at open side and Scott LaValla at lock is a better combination than LaValla at flanker and whoever's available at lock."

With Todd Clever, Scott LaValla, Lou Stanfill, Inaki Basauri and John Quill, as well as possibly Manoa, available, Tolkin has to be pleased with his options. But you always want more.

Peter Dahl, Liam Murphy, Pierce Dargan, Cam Dolan and Derek Asbun have work ahead of them, but it's good to know we have so many good players at this position. I wonder if a wild card like Utah's John Cullen could be useful.

Same goes for scrumhalf. Robbie Shaw, Mike Petri and Shaun Davies are all good, Davies is healthiest at the moment.

As we wrote about on RUGBYMag.com earlier, there is little question that Tony L'Estrange is the first choice at flyhalf. But, along with finding a backup hooker, finding the right backup at flyhalf is a crucial task for the Eagle coaching staff. It could be that Adam Siddall or Folau Niua fit the bill. Tested last year, Gearoid McDonald might not be the one right now, but Zachary Pangelinan remains an option. This job is wide open, and hugely important.

At center Andrew Suniula is expected to be first choice at inside, and Paul Emerick, once he recovers from his ankle injury, should be outside center. But it is highly unwise to depend on just these two. I'd like to see James Paterson back in the mix, but his work has made that tough. Luke Hume, usually a wing, and Chris Wyles, usually a fullback, could play in the midfield.

Roland Suniula has been battling injuries.

So as you can see, there is lots of room in the midfield. Look for Troy Hall to be a factor, Adam Siddall, who is a big unit for a flyhalf, can play center, and so can Blaine Scully. It seems pretty clear that Seamus Kelly from Cal will be on the team at some point. Is that enough?

I like Dean Gericke from Arkansas State, very much, and Hoseki Kofe from BYU, and Chad London is a useful player for Glendale. Depth at center is a worry. We have lots of names of players who are decent to good, but it's actually a really important position, and we can't just hope.

This might be a time to point out just how fortunate we have been to have Paul Emerick playing for the Eagles for over 50 test matches.

Wing actually looks OK, with Hume, Taku Ngwenya and Zachary Pangelinan there, as well as Scully, and potentially Paterson. Don't forget Mike Palefau and Cornelius Dirksen (two good players with very different styles of play). I would like to see Miles Craigwell get a shot, and I wonder if Carlin Isles might also try his hand – wing in international 15s is a daunting position.

Fullback seems to be where Chris Wyles will play, and where Pangelinan or Scully will fill in. If I were to look at a project I would look at Jake Anderson from Cal.

As always, every position has room for anyone to compete for a spot at any position, but if you are thinking of finding the best avenue to make the Eagles this year, play prop or flyhalf, kick goals, or play center.

Or do all of those things, which would make you Mike Te'o, and he’s someone to watch, too.