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Not held in 2011, the ARC in 2010 was used more as a warmup for national team players not contracted overseas – a slight difference. But in his defense, then-Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan was trying to nail down his squad for 2011. As it turned out, his nailing down that lineup was a painfully slow process, but that doesn’t take away from the usefulness of the ARC.

In 2010 several players changed their fortunes at the ARC. Nic Johnson, made captain of the team, put himself in contention for the No. 8 spot, a position he kept through the World Cup. Tai Enosa did enough to keep him in the mix, and Andrew Suniula also had a strong tournament. Eric Fry showed he had the potential to play international prop, and a year later was secure as an Eagle.

But the player whose fortunes completely changed at the ARC was Samu Manoa. Manoa was a star for SFGG, but was playing in Tonga when the call came out for him to come in the squad as an injury replacement. Manoa was a revelation, and was taken to Europe on the subsequent tour. From that tour, and his form in the Super League the following spring, Manoa was signed by the Northampton Saints.

Can the same happen this time? Can players play their way into the November tour of Europe? It will be very, very hard, but it could happen. Tolkin is in no hurry to push a player into the test arena if he’s not ready. And Tolkin won’t have any non-test games in the UK during which he can throw somebody into the fray carefully.

So for a player to get a real look, he’s going to have to do something special, and he’s going to have to fill a need.

Three of the ARC players are highly likely to go with the Eagles to Europe because they were on the squad in June and are playing just fine – Derek Asbun, Taylor Mokate, and Shaun Davies.

They will join a list for November that will likely include:
Mike MacDonald
Shawn Pittman
Mate Moeakiola
Eric Fry
Chris Biller
Lou Stanfill
Samu Manoa
Brian Doyle
Scott LaValla
Todd Clever
Mike Petri
Mose Timoteo
Roland Suniula
Andrew Suniula
Paul Emerick
James Paterson
Taku Ngwenya
Luke Hume
Chris Wyles

So that’s 22 names likely on a 27-man squad.

Some players from June won’t be on the squad in November. Seamus Kelly and Will Holder are in school. Colin Hawley and Andrew Durutalo are expected to be playing 7s.

Tolkin will be looking for some specific things in those five or so spots.

He wants more depth at front row. If Manoa is on the squad, his needs at lock might shift to a specific need for a ground-covering flanker.

He needs depth, desperately, at flyhalf. He wants some more depth at center. He needs to shore up his team’s goalkicking and kicking game in general.

Obviously all the front row players have a shot at making the grade as a 7th prop/hooker. Zach Fenoglio’s versatility might give him an inside track here, but Tim Paulsen and Tony Purpura are well-placed to take a spot here, too. Athletically, Nick Wallace could be the best among this group, but he’s still developing, and still in college. All of these players, including hooker Stan Moaalii, are playing for a November trip.

In the second row, Tom Katzfey might be expected to have an inside track because he’s been in an Eagles assembly before, but I think the race to augment the six locks and flankers we expect to be chosen is wide open. If John Quill is the ball-poaching machine he has the ability to be, maybe he’s the guy. On the other hand, with Manoa, Stanfill, and LaValla all capable of sliding between loose forward and lock, maybe a lock like Graham Harriman wins the day. Cam Dolan? Maybe, but putting him on the Eagles now is a lot to ask.

I actually like Eric Duechle for this, as he’s another flexible 4-5-6-8 player.

Flyhalf is an enormous question-mark. Volney Rouse is now out of the ARC due to a knee injury, and Geroid McDonald is coming in from Ireland. Don’t forget that the guy thought by many to be the Eagle flyhalf in June, Toby L’Estrange, is still coming back from injury.

I figure Zach Pangelinan will end up playing 7s this season, and there will continue to be a battle among players looking to be the USA #10. Roland Suniula has been playing regularly for Auch, albeit at inside center. Will Holder is still in the mix when he’s not in school. McDonald, Rouse, L’Estrange, and possibly another prospect from overseas could all break into the position in 2013.

Look for Tolkin to give a significant chance to McDonald, who can kick goals very well.

Out wide, the Eagles look very strong, with Chris Wyles, Luke Hume, James Paterson, and Taku Ngwenya. Tolkin might be looking for one more, but that’s unlikely.

So the National Team is fairly stable right now. Some players might push in as backup, but with one exception, the Eagles squad will be easy to predict. That exception is flyhalf – not to run down Roland Suniula, but Tolkin is looking for more international-level #10s, and he’s it is in that position where we could well see an uncapped player get a lot of attention.

Other experiments or development projects can wait, but flyhalf cannot.

Now, if the rest of these ARC players, plus the next 40 or so on the depth chart, could just get a national all-star competition put together, then we’d have something.