Mat Turner has been with the Seattle Seawolves since Major League Rugby first began in 2018, and is looking to add a third title to the side’s cabinet as rugby continues to grow in the United States.
Turner, who played schoolboy rugby in Cape Town and featured 34 times for England Sevens, not only plays for Seattle Seawolves but is also their director of operations.
“It has been an awesome experience so far, I am lucky enough to work daily with our owners, Shane Skinner and Adrian Balfour,” said Turner, speaking of being involved in Major League Rugby’s expansion.
“The US situation is quite an interesting one, from a playing point of view, it is amazing, you get to travel around the USA.
“With the league expanding next season with the added two teams, LA Giltinis and the Dallas team. This shows that there is genuine interest for investors. So all is looking good.
“The MLR seems to be making all the right decisions to getting closer to the golden egg, which is a proper broadcasting deal which would get the game into hundreds of millions of households.”
“The level of play is getting better, but most importantly you are part of the being of something great, I really feel it’s more of a ‘when’ than an ‘if’ this league takes off.”
However, despite the increase in teams, Turner recognises that there are obstacles and difficulties ahead of Major League Rugby if it wants to sustain itself.
“The limitations are whether we can get the game into colleges and high schools, we need Americans playing the game from a young age. That will be the true game-changer for over here.
“Like any new league, you rarely have the same teams as what you started with. The first team to drop out has been Glendale/Denver Raptors, but we have gained the two new ones, which also will open up new markets in the USA.”
To combat the limitations, several high-profile players have been signed by Major League Rugby franchises, which Turner believes will attract attention to the league, significantly from potential investors.
“It’s a constant talking point here in the USA about foreign players coming over and taking local players money and opportunities.
“The reality of the current talent climate here is there aren’t enough high-quality players to create a product that will be attractive to the crowds and more importantly, the TV audience.
“I personally feel if players like this can come over and play decent rugby and upskill players, it’s a win-win.”
For the 2020 season, Major League Rugby implemented a conference format, similar to in other national American leagues. There are two conferences, Western and Eastern, with a total of 96 games scheduled before it was cut short.
And the conference system is well suited to Major League Rugby, says Turner, as it allows teams to keep costs down while also increasing its appeal to the country by joining a recognised sporting system.
Additionally, it’s a useful mechanism for nurturing a critical component of any sporting competition – rivalries.
“100 percent I think leagues need to have these rivalries, it adds a little more to the games,” Turner said.
The Seawolves have begun to develop a rivalry with San Diego Legion, with Turner saying there’s “nothing better than going down to San Diego and getting the win.”
Seattle faced San Diego in the 2018 semifinals and again in the 2019 final, victorious both times. However before the 2020 season was called off, San Diego ran out 33-24 victors on the opening day.
Looking ahead to the 2021 season, Turner is hoping to add a third championship ring to his record as Seattle looks to help advance rugby in the area. The Seawolves also have two draft picks joining them in Aaron Matthews and Nicholas Taylor, picks 5 and 17 respectively.
“From the Seawolves point of view, [the key consideration] has been balancing our squad from an experience point of view, but also looking at developing local talent.”
“Aaron and Nicholas are both very versatile players with huge potential, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see either of them getting a run out 2021 for the Seawolves.”
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