Utah Warriors Release Initial 2020 Roster
With over 9 countries represented the Warriors and 14 Utahns on the Warriors initial roster the team is “reloading” for a strong 2020 MLR campaign
Salt Lake City, UT—The Utah Warriors released the initial 2020 roster today ahead of the players reporting for training camp, which will start on December 2nd at the Zions Bank Real Academy facilities in Herriman, Utah.
With a current roster of 33 MLR players, the Warriors have brought in 14 new faces to the team and resigned 19 of last year’s roster. Of the 14 new faces to Warriors Nation, eight of them hail from overseas while the other six are domestic players. And five of the six domestic players signing for 2020 come from the state of Utah.
New head coach Chris Latham said the combination of experienced international and rising domestic players will be the key to building a successful program over the long-term.
“We have great domestic players with fantastic athletic ability,” Latham said, “Its these players that are going to be the pillars to our long-term success as an organization. And the international players we have brought in have not only proven to be good players on the field, but also have great leadership qualities off the field. Their leadership will help set the standard when creating the winning environment we want to achieve.”
With the departure of captain Tim O’Malley to NEC in the Japan Top League, the Warriors will be looking to fill a sizeable leadership role for the team. However, with 19 returning MLR veterans the Warriors will have plenty of experience to lean on.
“It’s great to see a high number of the core group of players returning this year,” Latham said. “These players are vital to the culture of the Warriors. It’s their experience in the league and they know it means to be a Utah Warrior. And that will be vital to the group moving forward.”
Despite a 2019 season that had the Warriors finish 2-12-2 and in 8th place in the MLR final standings, Warriors GM Kimball Kjar knew the foundational pieces of talent were in place.
“We saw a lot of amazing things in bits and spurts last season from our core group of players,” Kjar said. “But, we needed to add some power up front, some overall depth and some ability to rotate players over the course of the 16-week season. So, we’re very excited that we’ve been able to sign the new players that we have, both from overseas and from our backyard, and to add them to a solid base of talented and committed Warriors.”
Greatly contributing to the depth and power Kjar noted was the signing of four international stalwarts: Veremalua Vugakoto, Kalolo Tuiloma, Jurie Van Vuuren and Richard Stanford.
Vugakoto is coming off the Flying Fijians recent victory over the vaunted Barabarians at Twickenham by the score of 33-31. He also held the primary hooker duties for Fiji at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Tuiloma concluded the 2018 season with an injury after a strong Super Rugby campaign with the Highlanders. Fully healed and ready to take on his next challenge, the 6’4” and 300 pounds tighthead prop will be a force to be reckoned with come scrum time and in loose play.
Vugakoto and Tuiloma will combine with MLR veterans Franco Van Den Berg, Angus MacClellan, Frikkie De Beer and Huluholo Moungaloa to create some formidable competition in the front row. 2018 All-MLR 2nd Team prop Alex Tucci will be unavailable due to injury, but hopes to recover for the 2021 season.
Adding some versatility and power to the second row and back rows of the Warriors is Jurie Van Vuuren and Richard Stanford. Both are Super Rugby veterans, with Van Vuuren recently featuring with the Southern Kings in the Pro 14 competition.
Stanford was a multi-year Super Rugby veteran with the ACT Brumbies and the Western Force. Both will look to add impact in the second row that features returning locks Saia Uhila and USA Eagle Matt Jensen.
Local talent added to the Utah Warriors include players largely in the forward pack with the additions of Ricky Tuilangingie, a hooker/prop from BYU, and Mike Payne, a young and hard-working prop also from BYU.
The University of Utah’s former 2017 captain Caleb Meyer also returns to Utah with the Warriors after a two-season stint with NOLA Gold in 2018 and 2019.
Other local talent progressing to the 2020 Warriors roster sees two former USA Rugby U20 captains join the team. Calvin Whiting, a center, and Bailey Wilson, a flanker, both played their high school rugby with United Rugby Club (Alpine, UT) and went on to lead the USA U20s. Whiting would go on to feature as an All-American at Brigham Young University, and Wilson the same at Utah Valley University.
Meyer and Wilson will join a savvy veteran backrow group, which includes Collegiate All-American Ara Elkington, USA Eagle John Cullen and the physical and tenacious flankers of Lance Williams and Jackson Kaka. With these players and the added options of Uhila, Stanford and Van Vuuren sliding into the back row over the course of the season, competition for game time will be fierce within this group.
With the noted departure of O’Malley from the Warriors backline, the Utah Warriors front office leadership knew the team would need to find some experience to help steady the backline.
With the additions of Manu Samoa International scrumhalf, Dwayne Polataivao and Kiwi-born German flyhalf Hagen Schulte, the Warriors are adding some seasoned players in the halfback roles.
With Blake Hohaia, a consummate leader for the Northland Mitre 10 team, joining Whiting, USA Eagle Josh Whippy and fellow newcomer Tyler Fisher, a 6’4” and 230 pound center from South Africa, the Warriors backline will see some power and versatility in the midfield.
The deepest position group in the Warriors will be in the deep three with Fetu Vainikolo, Nolan Tuamoheloa, Tonata Lauti, Gannon Moore, Pat Ravouvou and Kenny Scott all returning.
Each player provides their own brand of “x-factor.” However, notables Vainikolo, being the all-time leading try-scorer for Tonga, Ravouvou, a gold-medal-winning former Fijis 7s player, and Lauti, the 2018 MLR-leading try-scorer, will each add their respective finishing flair to the Warriors backline.
With this depth in the deep three combined with the return of versatile play-maker Jared Whippy, scrumhalf Joe Nicholls and the addition of former NOLA Gold scrumhalf Michael Baska, the Warriors will hope to get back into their attacking form, as they led the MLR in tries in 2018.
These added 14 players that will look to complement the foundational base of 19 Utah Warriors players is something new head coach Latham is excited to see do well on the field.
“I believe on paper, we have the squad to do well this year,” Latham said. “It really comes down to how hungry we are as a group for success and how committed we are to put in the hard work.”
Also joining the Utah Warriors team set-up this season is a new developmental program called the “Warriors Selects.”
The Warriors Selects will train and work alongside their MLR counterparts, but will, like NFL practice squad members, only be eligible for MLR play should the need and the MLR contract opportunity arise.
“The Warriors Selects is a critical part to our long-term success as a franchise, as it will be the incubator for all our future stars,” said Warriors’ Director of Rugby Operations Brandon Sparks. “We’ll use this pathway to provide our local talent base and other domestic athletes the opportunity to be MLR-ready when the time and opportunity comes their way.”
Currently, the Warriors Selects is made up of 17 players, with some on “trial” during the month of December. Sparks’ stated goal is to have the eventual Selects in the range of 12-15 players. This will provide the needed 2020 season depth without encumbering these players’ developmental opportunities.
Notable Warriors Selects players include former University of Utah and NFL running back Matt Asiata, former Oregon State University defensive tackle Paisa Savea and former BYU Rugby All-American and local high school standout Tua Leai.
For more information on the Utah Warriors and the upcoming 2020 schedule, please visit www.WarrriorsRugby.com. 2020 Season Tickets are still available by calling 801-935-4045 or by visiting www.WarriorsRugby.com/season-tickets/.
You can listen to or view the new Warriors Cast with Jarom Jordan and Jared “Banksy” Banks reviewing the “reloaded” Utah Warriors roster and staff at:
• YouTube: https://youtube.com/c/WarriorsRugbyTV
• Facebook: https://facebook.com/warriorsrugbyofficial
• SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/warriorsrugby
• Instagram TV: https://www.instagram.com/warriorsrugbyofficial/
• Apple Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/warriors-cast/id1488492918
Utah Warriors Initial 2020 Roster
|Angus MacLellan||Prop||6’1″||260||Davenport University||USA||USA Eagle #493; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Arawa Elkington||Flanker||6’0″||225||BYU / Highland||New Zealand||BYU National Champion 2013, 2014; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Bailey Wilson||Flanker||6’3″||225||UVU / United||USA||USA U20 Captain; 1st Year of MLR/Warriors|
|Blake Hohaia||Center/FH||5’11”||216||Northland||New Zealand||Auckland U19, 25 Mitre 10 appearances & 15 points|
|Caleb Meyer||Flanker||6’2″||215||U of U||USA||Collegiate All-American, 1st Team All-PAC Conference, Rocky Mountain Collegiate All-Star Team Captain, University of Utah Team Captain/President; 3rd year of MLR/1st w/ Warriors; NOLA Gold 2018-2019|
|Calvin Whiting||Center||6’1″||230||BYU / United||South African||USA U20 Captain; Collegiate All American; BYU Captain 2018; 1st year of MLR/Warriors|
|Dwayne Polataivao||Scrumhalf||5’8″||185||Auckland||New Zealand||Professional: Doncaster & Auckland; Manu Samoa RWC 2019; 1st Year of MLR/Warriors|
|Fetu Vainikolo||Wing/Center||5’11”||215||Oyannax / Exeter||Tongan||Played professionally in all international top leagues; Tonga All-Time Leading Try-Scorer; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Franco Van Den Berg||Prop||6’0″||276||Blue Bulls||South African||World Rugby U20 championships 2016 for Junior Springboks; Currie Cup Runners-up with Blue Bulls U19 and U21 in 2015 and 2017; Varsity Cup Champions 2017 with University of Pretoria; MLR Second XV 2019; 2nd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Frikkie De Beer||Prop||6’3″||255||Chicago Lions||South African||Limpopo Blue Bulls Currie Cup; Chicago Lions; 2nd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Gannon Moore||Wing/Center||6’2″||220||North Harbour||USA||Kansas City Blues; North Harbour Provincial Rugby 7s & 15s. USA Eagle #527; 2nd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Hagen Schulte||Flyhalf||6’1″||205||CSM Bucaresti||New Zealand||Glasgow Warriors; Germany National Team; Heidelberg RFC; Marist Albion HS/Christchurch, NZ; 1st year of MLR/Warriors|
|Huluholo Moungaloa||Prop||6’2″||270||St. Mary’s College||Tongan||USA Eagle #515; Life West Rugby; Tonga High School; College All American; 2nd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Jackson Kaka||Flanker/Lock||6’4″||245||BYU||New Zealand||Collegiate All-American and USA Selects National Team; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Jared Whippy||Flyhalf/Back||5’11”||225||BYU / United||Fijian||High School National Champ with United Rugby; 2x National Champ at BYU; Collegiate All American; 2x Club 7s National Champ with Rugby Utah Selects; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Joe Nicholls||Scrumhalf||6’1″||205||BYU / United||Zimbabwean||High School National Champ with United Rugby; 2x National Champ at BYU; Collegiate All American; 2x Club 7s National Champ with Rugby Utah Selects; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|John Cullen||No. 8/Lock||6’5″||260||U of U||USA||Warriors Vice Captain 2019; Captain/Coach Park City Haggis; Collegiate All American; USA Eagle #457; 3rd Year of MLR/Warriors|
|Josh Whippy||Center/Wing||6’1″||220||BYU / United||Fijian||High School National Champ with United Rugby; 2x National Champ at BYU; Collegiate All American; 2x Club 7s National Champ with Rugby Utah Selects; USA Eagle #518; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Jurie Van Vuuren||Lock/Flanker||6’4″||253||Kings / Stormers||South African||Western Province U19 Currie Cup 2012; FNB Maties Varsity Cup 2013; Junior Springboks squad 2014; Stormers Super Rugby 2014-2017; Western Province Currie Cup 2015-2017; Southern Kings Guinness Pro 14 2017-2019; 1st Year w/ MLR/Warriors|
|Kalolo Tuiloma||Prop||6’3″||302||Highlanders||New Zealand||2013 South Canterbury Heartland; 2014-2019 Mitre 10 Counties Manukau; 2014-2015 Grenoble; 2018-2019 Highlanders; 1st year of MLR/Warriors|
|Kenny Scott||Wing||6’4″||245||Park City Haggis||USA||Kansas City Blues; Rugby Utah 7s Selects; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Lance Williams||Flanker||6’2″||230||University of Hawaii||USA||2017 National 7s Champions – Rugby Utah Selects; 2017 Runners Up Rugby Town – Rugby Utah 7s Selects; 2019 All-MLR 2nd Team; Former D1 Football linebacker for University of Hawaii; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Matt Jensen||Lock||6’7″||275||BYU / Highland||USA||2x National Champion with BYU; Collegiate All American; USA Eagle #506|
|Michael Baska||Scrumhalf||6’1″||185||Lindenwood / NOLA||USA||2x 7’s USA Collegiate National Champion at Arkansas State University 2012, 2013, 1x 7’s USA Collegiate National Champion and team captain at Lindenwold University 2017, 7’s College All-American 2017, NOLA Gold 2018 and 2019; 3rd year od MLR & 1st year of Warriors|
|Mike Payne||Prop||6’0″||245||BYU||USA||2 year starter at BYU Rugby; 1st year of MLR/Warriors|
|Nolan Tuamoheloa||Wing||6’0″||195||Weber State / Kau Toa||USA||Kau Toa (HS); Utah Cannibals; Weber State Unviersity; Antelope Rugby (Men’s Club); 2nd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Ratu Veremalua Vugakoto||Hooker||5’11”||245||Fiji||Fijian||2015-Tasman Makos U18; 2016-2017-Fiji U20; 2017- 2019-Fiji Warriors/Drua/Latui/Flying Fijians; 2019 Fiji Rugby World Cup; 1st year of MLR/Warriors|
|Richard Stanford||Lock/Flanker||6’5″||234||Rebels, ACT||Australian||Australia School Boys; 2009-2017 Super Rugby with Brumbies, Western Force and Waratahs; 1st year of MLR/Warriors|
|Ricky Tu’ihalangingie||Hooker/Prop||6’1″||245||BYU||Tongan||Australian School Boys; 4 year starter at BYU Rugby; 1st year of MLR/Warriors|
|Saia Uhila||Lock/Flanker||6’5″||265||Salt Lake Spartans||Tongan||Member of Rugby Utah Selects 15 team in 2017; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Tonata Lauti||Wing||5’8″||185||U of U / Highland||Tongan||MLR’s #1 try scorer-2018; Collegiate All-American (7’s & 15’s) at U of U; 3rd year of MLR/Warriors|
|Tyler Fisher||Center||6’3″||242||West Harbour / Eagles||South African||West Harbour Rugby Club (Shute Shield); Currie Cup–SWD Eagles (2018), Pumas (2017), Leopards (2016), Sharks (2012-2015); Junior Springboks 2013; Blitzboks 7s 2015; 1st year of MLR/Warriors|
|Vatemo Ravouvou||Fullback/Wing/FH||6’1″||195||Fiji 7s||Fijian||Fiji 7s Olympic Gold Medalist; Flying Fijians 15s, Western Sydney Rams; 2nd year of the MLR/Warriors|
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