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There are players who could show up and break into the World Cup lineup
this summer. There are certainly players who are expected to be in the
World Cup who were unavailable. And there’s little doubt also that someone
in the squad now could well end up on the outside looking in.
The small number of players who have pretty much secured a spot include:
Chris Biller and Phil Thiel (O’Sullivan clearly hasn’t been too impressed with any of the other hookers he’s seen).
Shawn Pittman (He’s the guy the Eagles are building around), and probably Will Johnson.
Hayden Smith is a lock (meaning … oh never mind you know what we mean). John van der Giessen and Lou Stanfill are sure things too.
Todd Clever is obviously going to be on the Eagles and we think Samu Manoa has a place set as well.
In the backs, O’Sullivan has not brought in anyone at scrumhalf other than Mike Petri and Tim Usasz. So it appears right now it’s a tough thing for Robbie Shaw, Shalom Suniula, or anyone else.
Nese Malifa is a lock to be in New Zealand, but clearly O’Sullivan wants a backup at flyhalf.
In center, Paul Emerick is a sure thing, and at wing/fullback Taku Ngwenya, Chris Wyles and Kevin Swiryn are all secure.
There are several players who are very likely to be on the RWC squad, but could play their way off, do something dumb to get dropped, or can lock down a spot at the Churchill.
Eric Fry is on the upswing, while Mike MacDonald has a prime chance here to claim his third World Cup place. Chances are the front row will be Thiel, Biller, Pittman, Johnson, Fry and MacDonald.
At second row/back row, Scott LaValla is almost assured but if he has a poor Churchill Cup, he might be looking over his shoulder. Inaki Basauri and JJ Gagiano, we think, are still auditioning, although it seems as if O’Sullivan really likes Basauri. Gagiano is solid.
Nic Johnson? His form has been excellent, but we can’t get a complete handle on where he stands. Our feeling is that the Eagles would be insane not to take him to New Zealand.
Centers picked for the Churchill are Mile Pulu, Junior Sifa, Andrew Suniula and Roland Suniula. There’s no mention of Seta Tuilevuka, and that’s most likely because he’s injured (broken wrist) and out for several weeks. Pate Tuilevuka is still an option, and we don’t think he’s out of it, either. All of those guys are still playing for a place – six guys for maybe three spots.
Guys who have a lot at stake in the Churchill Cup:
Pat Danahy. Seemed to be out of favor. Has a great shot to open some eyes.
Danny LaPrevotte. Terrific player for SFGG. Played in last Churchill Cup, but not much after that so … this is where he needs to take charge.
Two other loose forwards, Cam Dolan and Taylor Mokate, would be great picks if O’Sulilvan were not inspired by anyone else, and wanted to get a younger player on the squad. That’s not a bad idea. They are both excellent players, but developing, and of course not being in the Churchill Cup makes it harder for them.
Tai Enosa. Could be the backup flyhalf/center/fullback but needs to become more of a leader. He’s a shy young man, so it’s a tough ask.
Troy Hall. This is a flat-out audition for flyhalf for Hall. If he can come in as a flyhalf who can play some center, with his intelligence and experience, he could suddenly be a mainstay.
Colin Hawley. One of several young players who, if you were building for the future, you would pick no question. Very versatile and smart.
Mike Palefau. Wow, wouldn’t it be fun to see him break in? Obviously O’Sullivan has only seen him in one camp, where he was great. Now let’s see how he does in game situations.
Zack Test. Same situation as Hawley.
Volney Rouse is not named, but it’s hard to think he’s completely out of it. O’Sullivan wants to try out Hall. That could work out fine for him. Rouse’s biggest asset is his goalkicking, something neither Hall nor Tai Enosa does with a lot of regularity. But, as reported on RUGBYMag.com, Chris Wyles has been working hard on his goalkicking, and he’ll be playing regularly, so the search for a backup flyhalf isn’t a search for a goalkicker. It’s a search for a playmaker.
Peter Dahl, remains a player who has shown very good form in club rugby, but the loose forward dinner table is pretty crowded these days.
Alec Parker. Just can’t rule him out.
John Vitale. Not picked due to injury, Vitale could yet show up, but it will likely take an injury or a major loss of form by someone else.
Mate Moeakiola. He’s not been idle. Played 18 games for Bobogny 93 this season, but they are in the French Federale 1, basically the French 3rd division. His not being mentioned indicates that the USA coaches wonder about his fitness, or the competition he’s been facing.
Tony Purpura. Basically seems to be out of the loop now, and it's strange because he's played well in the Super League. Could he play his way back in? Can't see how unless he's given the opportunity to play.
Leonard Peters. Also a player not to give up on simply because he’s been home dealing with personal business. Would love to see him back.
What O’Sullivan should do is lean younger. Perhaps the best thing the Eagles can do at the World Cup is not win two games, but put as many players in position to play professionally as possible.
And you’re not going to get 30-year-olds their first pro contract. You will get young players – LaValla, Mokate, Test, Hawley, Dolan, Danahy, Fry – a look.
Coaching the Eagles on a strictly four-year World Cup cycle doesn’t make sense anyway. So what O’Sullivan should do is, when he has a tough choice to make, he should go young.
From the most part he’s done that in this squad. The key is not to give up on young guys who falter.