How a strong finish to 2022 has Greg Cooper and the Warriors poised for a big 2023 Season
HERRIMAN — The Utah Warriors finished up the 2022 season playing as well as anyone in Major League Rugby, which was a remarkable feat, all things considered.
A 22-8 resounding win over the Austin Gilgronis was followed up with a narrow 39-32 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Giltinis. Both teams were well considered two of the best teams in MLR at the time, before they were eliminated out of playoff contention due to rules violations.
The Warriors finished up the season running past the Dallas Jackals 33-5, fielding an otherwise depleted roster due to injury and other factors.
Long eliminated from playoff contention, Utah was able to set forth its strong finish due to strides made throughout the season despite injuries, coaching changes among other factors. It was an exercise of rare determination brought about by strong character and culture within the organization.
From his spot halfway around the world, Greg Cooper noticed just about all of it.
“I looked at all the performances, but I particularly looked at the Austin game,” Cooper said. “I also looked at the Atlanta game and the (Los Angeles) game … and there were some really strong performances there.”
They were the type of performances that didn’t reflect the high loss total the Warriors had accumulated, which struck Cooper’s curiosity.
“I’m looking at all that, and then I’m looking at where they had been and I could tell there was something going on here,” Cooper said. “I analyzed the performance, I talked to the coaching staff, and I honestly believe that this was a team going places. There were some tell-tale signs there.”
There's no better fanbase in Major League Rugby than Warrior Nation!
Read about how the Warriors' fanbase have continued to set the standard in the MLR.#ForTheNation
— Utah Warriors Rugby (@utwarriorsrugby) August 11, 2022
Further conversations with Warriors CEO Kimball Kjar and General Manager Brandon Sparks worked to confirm Cooper’s initial impressions. All of which brought him to Utah to serve as the Utah Warriors new head coach, coming over directly from Japan where he brought new success to the Mitsubishi Dynaboars organization.
Utah finished the latter part of its schedule last season without a head coach due to Shawn Pittman being dismissed from the position midway through the season. In his stead were assistant coaches Shaun Davies and Robbie Abel, who both did amazing work rallying the players in providing a strong finish to the season.
Cooper is hoping to retain both assistant coaches as part of his staff for obvious reasons.
“I’ve had good conversations with both and was really impressed with what they were able to do last year with the team,” Cooper said. “My hope is to build off that. I don’t want to come in and change everything, or even most things. That’s not how I operate. The foundations are strong here and the talent is very good. My goal is to add what I can to what I feel is an already strong foundation, and both Robbie and Shaun deserve a lot of credit for that.”
The existing talent has impressed Cooper as well, with the goal to experience little roster turnover from season to season.
“The MLR is a young competition, so you’re going to have to rely still on overseas talent to come in, sure,” Cooper said. “But we now want those same players to stick around while developing good local talent. Again, the foundations to do just that are already here, which is one of the main reasons I chose to come here.”
— Utah Warriors Rugby (@utwarriorsrugby) July 21, 2022
The ultimate goal is ambitious, and is something Cooper is aligned with.
“We want to be competitive every year, but we also want to become the epicenter of North American Rugby, as both Kimball (Kjar) and Brandon (Sparks) have said,” Cooper said. “I’m very much on the same page there and really excited to get it going. There’s a ton of potential here and it’s an honor to have the opportunity now to be a part of it.”
Brandon Gurney is the Utah Warriors Team Reporter. With nearly two decades of experience covering BYU Football in print and on radio, Gurney brings a wealth of experience to the Utah Warriors beat. You can read all of Gurney’s stories on the Utah Warriors throughout the 2022 Season at warriorsrugby.com
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