The start of the 2019 MLR season is less than a month away and not even Donald Trump can stop the flow of talented foreigners coming to the US and Canada for the burgeoning competition. The Rugby Zone counts down the top 10 foreign players signed on for 2019.
10. Paddy Ryan – San Diego Legion.
Once touted as the answer to Australia’s scrummaging woes, Paddy Ryan has been a consistent force in Super Rugby for the New South Wales Waratahs earning 116 caps provincially and 3 for Australia. He joins a very strong signing roster for the San Diego Legion that includes several South Africa Super Rugby players.
9. Sam Malcolm – Toronto Arrows
Despite being only 23, Malcolm has a very assured game with a full range of skills and a surprisingly strong defensive game for a player who switches between scrumhalf and flyhalf. After playing for Manuwatu in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup and New Zealand Universities, Malcolm will bring his skills to the Toronto Arrows as 1 of 3 kiwis in the team.
8. Hanco Germishuys – Glendale Raptors
Okay so technically, Germishuys is an All-American, but he makes this list by virute of being born in South Africa as well as being one of the best loose forward finds for the USA in the last 5 years. In 2018, he was the 3rd highest try scorer for the MLR and THE top try scorer for forwards in all of international rugby – that’s no mean feat especially with the competitiveness in tier 2. Germishuys has an abrasiveness to his game that makes him a great attacker as well as a prototypical defender. These talents will be put to good use when he lines up for the US heavy Glendale Raps in 2019.
7. Con Foley – NOLA Gold
The brother of Australian ace, Bernard Foley, is just as talented but has displayed his skills mainly on the 7s stage. A center or fullback in 15s, he has played 234 matches for the Australian 7s team and scored 61 tries. A strong defender and powerful runner, it’s uncertain which position he will line up for for NOLA Gold but his skills should complement the silky ball playing imports – Taylor Howden and Tristan Blewett.
6. Kane Thompson – NOLA Gold
NOLA Gold have also added some starch in the forwards with the addition of Kane Thompson. Thompson is one of the most well-traveled rugby players on the planet. He has represented 12 different clubs including the Highlanders and Chiefs in Super Rugby, the Newcastle Falcons in England, the Canon Eagles in Japan and both New Zealand and Samoa at international level. He is a skilled off-loader and plays a very heads up game close to the ruck. NOLA Gold will look to get some of their other big imports in Canadian Kyle Baillie, Chilean Nikola Bursic and the Eagles Cam Dolan running off Thompson.
5. Joe Pietersen – San Diego Legion
Pietersen is an extremely skilled operator who never really got the recognition that he deserved. He has the similar all-round skills to a player like Willie Le Roux or Ruan Combrinck and probably could have played for South Africa, but injuries and timing got in his way. Now in the twilight of his career, the San Diego Legion will look to use all of his guile and experience to help guide their back line.
4. Osea Kolinisau – Houston Saber Cats
Returning to the Houston Saber Cats for his 2nd season, Kolinisau is a legend of world 7s. He is the most-capped Fijian 7s player of all time playing in 301 games and is the 12th highest points scorer in international 7s history with 1272 points. He was also the captain of Fiji when they won Olympic Gold in 2016 and was awarded the Officer of the Order of Fiji for his feats. Kolinisau will again be a part of a dangerous Saber Cats back line that also features fellow Fijian Josua Vici. The Saber Cats have a very international flavor overall with 15 imports in their squad.
3. Phil Mack – Seattle Seawolves
Mack returns for another season with the Seattle Seawolves after helping them to a maiden title in 2018. Mack is an experienced campaigner for Canada having played for his country for almost 15 years in both 7s and 15s. Despite a few tackling deficiencies and Canada’s national woes, Mack remains an astute reader of the game and has a varied passing game which allows him to take control of matches. He knows when to lift the tempo with a well placed snipe or when to unleash the Seawolves powerful runners. They will look to him to rally their complement of foreign imports team including the 5 other Canadians in the squad.
2. Ben Foden – RUNY
Probably the biggest signing of 2019, former England international, Ben Foden is a class act and will bring a calmness to RUNY in their first season in the MLR. Foden played 34 games for England including the 2011 World Cup and was at one point regarded as one of their best players. He is the perfect signing for a team looking for leaders to establish a good club culture and provide mentorship to some of the other young imports in the team.
1. Fetu’u Vainikolo – Utah Warriors
While Foden is probably the highest profile signing, Vainikolo gets the number 1 spot because he is arguably the most dynamic player in Major League Rugby. He is the all-time top try scorer for Tonga and has a sizzling highlights reel that shows off his immense speed, power and footwork. The Utah Warriors were knocked out in the semis in 2018, but if they can get Vainikolo operating at his full capacity then they will want to go further.