On Friday, it was announced that Utah Warriors captain Paul Lasike would be joining Harlequins for the upcoming season. A former NFL player with the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, Lasika is the newest star of USA rugby and has so far earned 6 caps during the Eagles unbeaten run this year. However, being so new to the sport and with the MLR having recently set up, is this the right move for him?
First off, I do not doubt that he has the ability. He clearly has the physical aspect from playing fullback in the NFL (a very different position to the rugby variant of the position) and when I have watched him play for the USA he has looked impressive. However, so far he has not had many tests against top quality opposition in the same way that he will playing in the Premiership and in Europe. It is a big step up and for every Samu Manoa and Chris Wyles who go on to forge strong careers in the Premiership, there will also be other players who are unable to make the cut. Danny Barrett and Seamus Kelly are both talented players, yet were unable to make the Gloucester squad following a 1-month trial at the start of the 2014/15 season. And it’s not as if Quins are light in the midfield, with Francis Saili, Ben Tapuai and Joe Marchant already competing with him and James Lang – now a Scottish international – also able to feature at centre. That’s a lot of quality competition for regular minutes.
Playing in the Premiership may also limit his availability for the national team. The Eagles will no always field their big stars based in Europe due to the timing of their matches falling outside the usual international windows. With just over a year until the World Cup, Lasike can surely not be guaranteed of a spot in the national team and if other players come in and impress, he could be at risk of missing out.
As for the MLR, with the league being so new, they will not want to lose any of their big stars as their top players – especially USA internationals – as they will be a huge draw when trying to entice fans in. Lasike was not only Utah’s captain, but as a USA international and former NFL player he was instantly marketable for the franchise. As great as it will be to see the top USA players getting offers from more prestigious leagues, I would hate it if the MLR began to struggle as a result.
That said, even if Lasike only plays a limited number of minutes this season and chooses to return to the MLR in time for next season, the chance to train regularly alongside experienced internationals like Mike Brown, Tim Visser, James Horwill and Chris Robshaw could be of great benefit to Lasike moving forwards in his career. There are some top quality coaches at the Stoop and if Lasike takes the chances available to learn from them, it could develop him so much as a player and in turn help him to develop his fellow Americans when training with the national team or if he does return to the MLR.
Is this the right move for him? It may limit him in the short-term, but I would say that centre is not one of the Eagles’ deepest positions currently, which will probably help his chances of World Cup selection even if the move to London doesn’t work out. But in the long-term, this could be just the move that he needs to take his game to the next level and thrive on the biggest stages. As a fan of USA rugby, I hope this works out for him and look forward to seeing him in the Premiership this season.
The 2018 Ultimate Schmoedown Team Tournament took another step towards starting on Friday with the announcement of the teams. Unlike previous years, the influence of Mike Kalinowski’s attempts to remove corruption from the league resulted in the Theme of Anarchy: All the usual teams are being disbanded for the tournament and new teams being drawn out of a hat, along with managers for the majority of the teams.
Now that Commissioner Thadd has picked the teams, I’ve decided to have a quick look at the matchups we have got. This will obviously contain spoilers for the draw, also the match between The Shirewolves and World’s finest that preceded it.
Matt Knost & William Bibbiani – managed by Emma Fyffe
2 of the original 4 Horsemen combine under Emma Fyffe in a team that could be a dark horse for victory. “The Beast” is in some of the best form of his Schmoedown career in 2018 while “Mighty” Matt Knost is a former Teams Champion with Top 10 and has played in 4 title matches within the division. Though Knost has run hot and cold at times, his performances have generally been better of late and combined with Bibbiani’s strong Round 1’s and Emma Fyffe’s experience of managing top competitors, they could find themselves in the later stages of the tournament. This could also throw up a great dynamic if they come up against John Rocha as “The Outlaw” has unfinished business with Bibbs, would the thirst to defeat the man who betrayed him overcome his friendship with his usual teammate and fellow Horseman?
Mark Reilly & Ben Bateman – managed by Tom Dagnino
If Knost and Bibbs are a potential dark horse, then these guys must be real contenders. 2-time Singles Champion Mark “Yodi” Reilly has recently returned to the league following a hiatus and has been matched with one of the most impressive competitors of the year in “The Boss”. Bateman is notorious for his studying techniques and excels in categories where others may struggle, like Oscars and Movie Release Dates, while Yodi brings the title match experience and Dagnino, while not having the best of seasons with the Lion’s Den, is the most experienced manager in the league and is good at deflecting attention away from his team. The dynamic within the team will be interesting given Reilly’s upcoming match with Ben’s usual teammate Andrew Ghai, but if this team can work together, they will be difficult to beat.
Devon Stewart & Brianne Chandler – managed by Markeia McCarty*
The Kingsmen have had little success so far in the Team Division but they have been fun to watch. Now Devon is being drawn with Brianne Chandler, who is possibly one of the more underrated competitors in the league. Aside from her Free 4 All victory, she has not competed since the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown tournaments so may be a bit rusty, but if she can reach her best this team could pull off an upset. McCarty did not have the best of debuts in the Innergeekdom Tournament, but it is good to see her returning in a manager role here. She will have been learning from an experienced manager in Jay Washington and it will be interesting to see how she and Brianne can work together given Miss Movies’ history with the Viper Squad.
Jeannine “The Machine” & Ethan Erwin – managed by Jay Washington
2 of the forerunners for Rookie of the Year combine under one of the more experienced managers in the league to create a team that could go far in the competition. Erwin is currently my favourite to claim the vacant Singles Title and Jeannine has put up strong showings in her 3 matches so far. This could come down to how well they can work together as a team. Regardless of how well they work, don’t be surprised to see Jay and Jeannine trying to make Erwin a permanent member of the Viper Squad.
Mike Kalinowski & Chance Ellison – managed by Ken Napzok
Probably not who “The Killer” was hoping to be paired with, rookie Chance Ellison will be lining up alongside Kalinowski with veteran Ken Napzok at the helm. The irony that the 2 competitors who have complained most about the system end up being drawn with an untried contestant is just too good to ignore. Kalinowski is a genuine triple threat in the league but Ellison is very much an unknown. Watching the Schmoedown Rundown and Late to the Party’s reaction suggest that he could be an dangerous competitor, but even if he is good at the trivia, many have shown how difficult it is to perform when under the lights for the first time. This team could be a surprise package and challenge in the later rounds, but they could also conceivably be one and done.
Jeff Sneider & Mark Andreyko – managed by Roxy Striar
On the topic of one and done teams, this partnership has the potential to go the distance, but also combust and cash out in the first round. “The Insneider” has had a generally good singles career but does have holes in his knowledge, which proved costly in his Number 1 Contender match against Bibbiani. Andreyko is a player who looks so strong but can also have horrible games. Luckily for his former Lion’s Den teammate, Andreyko has generally been in better form since joining the Fyffe Club. If Roxy Striar can get these two working together, they will be a force to be reckoned with, something I think Sneider knew judging by his cheers off-camera when the pair were announced.
Josh Macuga & Eliot Dewberry – managed by Ricky Hayberg
You just can’t break up the Wildberries! After a poor start, they have won 2 in a row and could cause an upset on the day. Throw in Ricky as manager and 2 things can be guaranteed when they play: carnage and loud voices! This may also be the match where Teepublic advertising takes a backseat to the Josh Macuga for Jeopardy campaign… I can’t wait!
Andrew Ghai & Rachel Cushing – managed by Robert Meyer Burnett*
Following a late withdrawal from the Innergeekdom tournament, “The Captain” makes his return to the Schmoedown managing one of the most interesting teams in the tournament. “The Crusher” is probably the strongest triple threat in the league and has been tied with “Dastardly” Drew Ghai who shocked the world with his defeat of Dan Murrell at Collider Collision II. Both study hard and I think their strengths could go together well to make an extremely dangerous team. Their personalities are complete opposites however and how they work together could prove crucial. If they can gel together, I’ll be shocked if they don’t make the semis.
Winston Marshall & Stacy Howard – managed by Coy Jandreau
This could be one of the most fun matches in the tournament. Marshall has really grown on me throughout the season as part of World’s Finest, while Stacy Howard plays the heel but also has some fun in her matches. They are also deceptively strong, with Marshall having just featured in a Number 1 Contenders match with World’s Finest and Stacy being well placed in the singles ranking. Throw in Coy and this is a trio that could have some fun.
Marc Edward Heuck & Witney Seibold – managed by Jonny Loquasto
An unknown quantity. “The Beauty” joins Schmoedown rookie Heuck. The Movie Geek may know his stuff but much like Chance Ellison, how he can cope with the pressure at the table will be key. Seibold is a strong competitor to be paired with and with “The Mouth” managing, they will not need to worry about their promos. If Heuck can perform well, then this team could cause some problems.
Eric Zipper & Haleigh Foutch – managed by Steele Saunders
While I don’t see this team making the latter stages of the tournament, they could definitely cause an upset in the first round. Zipper has performed well this season as part of World’s Finest and could enter the conversation for Rookie of the Year. Foutch has really impressed in her matches for Scream Queens but is likely to come up against stronger opposition than she has faced previously. I’m very interested to see what Steele Saunders brings to the team as he was a fun competitor in his Star Wars Fatal Fiveway. With a favourable draw they can have some success, but this will be a step up for both of them.
Scott Mantz & Sean Gerber
I’ve got to be honest, as good as both these competitors are, I think they will need a favourable draw to make it through the first round. Mantz on his day can be a real danger, but if he’s not focused he’s more dangerous to his own team. Will Gerber be able to keep him calm as Jason Inman has for many of Team Trek’s matches? If any team needed a manager, this was potentially it. Gerber has had a couple of strong showings this year, but is still relatively inexperienced compared to a number of his potential opponents. A match against Reilly & Batemen would not surprise me as it would give The Mantzman a chance for revenge against the man who stole his wheel slice.
Alonso Duralde & Matt Atchity
Duralde makes his return to the league having not competed since the 2017 Free 4 All, which was itself only his second appearance. While he may have good movie knowledge, the league has changed a lot since he last played and he may struggle to adapt. As part of MODOK, “The Kahuna” is by far the more experienced in the league, but at times you would not know it as he is not a regular in the same way that many of his competitors are. If this was a straight-up trivia battle I think they would stand more a chance, but I don’t think they will have the nuances of the how to compete in the Schmoedown that many of these teams possess.
Lon Harris & JTE
Another potential dark horse for the latter stages, “The Professor” has looked good in the Singles Division despite a loss to Ethan Erwin and being paired with one half of the most successful team in Schmoedown history could be just what he needs to make a run in the tournament. As for “Little Evil”, he was so often considered to be carried by Jeff Sneider, this will be a chance to remind everybody how dangerous he is in the Teams format. If things go well for the team, could we see Harris joining the Lion’s Den after the tournament? If nothing else, maybe the Professor can help JTE with his spelling.
Dan Murrell & John Rocha
The moment Murrell’s name was drawn, I just had a feeling that his former rival would be partnering him. 2 of the original triumvirate of Singles Champions, both competitors are legends of the Schmoedown and between then will have a good grasp of most categories. Add to that their first match being at the Live Event and I expect them to thrive with the support likely to be largely behind them. The Horsemen have the potential to be the strongest faction in the league, this pairing could be the start of the campaign for all the belts and all the records.
Drew McWeeny & Clarke Wolfe*
“The Godfather” will be making an immediate attempt to reclaim the belt he had to vacate and will be joined by the 2016 Rookie of the Year, forming a deadly partnership. McWeeny has improved so much over the last year and appeared to thrive in the Team Division with Samm Levine, while Clarke has likewise thrived since joining the Shirewolves. I will be shocked if they aren’t pushing for a place in the final, while the chance of competing against Clarke’s former teammate Mark Reilly and Ben Bateman – who has lost to both Drew and Clarke as part of Team Action – will be mouth-watering.
16 wonderful teams that will all be exciting to watch, but there is a chance that changes could still happen. 3 pairings have been marked with a * as they contain a competitor hat we know will be facing off in the Team Title Match ahead of the tournament. The Shirewolves will be taking on Brianne Chandler and her currently unannounced partner (so perhaps 4 teams will actually need the *), with the winners not competing in the Anarchy tournament. If that happens, there are still some quality competitors not accounted for – Jason Inman, Grae Drake and Mara Knopic to name just a few. As much as I like the Shirewolves, I almost find myself hoping that Brianne wins the title match just because of how much I want to see Rachel and Clarke in these new teams!
And just as I was about to post this, Kristian Harloff has announced the matches for the first round. Obviously there will be some changes of personnel dependant on the Team Title match result, but I have predicted my victors as the teams currently stand in bold:
Rocha & Murrell v Marshall & Howard
Sneider & Andreyko v Mantz & Gerber
JTE & Harris v Wildberries
Bibbiani & Knost v Chandler & Stewart
Reilly & Bateman v Zipper & Foutch
McWeeny & Wolfe v Heuck & Seibold
Kalinowski & Ellison v Cushing & Ghai
Erwin & The Machine v Duralde & Atchity
What do you think of the new teams? Who are you looking forward to watching? Who do you see progressing to the next round? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!