All eyes in the Utah Warriors organization are firmly on the 2023 Major League Rugby Season. Coming off of a disappointing 5-11 campaign in 2022, the Warriors have had a busy off-season filled with player signings, a loaded draft class and the announcement of a new Head Coach. Despite the new faces on the roster and coaching staff, the Warriors are set to return upwards of 25+ players from a season ago.
With that much returning production it's obvious the Warriors' management believes this roster has the talent to compete for a MLR Championship and trusts in the players that will be returning.
It's crucial, then, that these five members of the Warriors' roster continue to improve and take that next step towards competing for a MLR Championship in 2023.
The local product from Herriman, Utah, is coming off of his first season with the Utah Warriors after spending the previous year with the Utah Selects, a development team for Utah's MLR side. A fan favorite, Tonga appeared in over half of Utah's matches in 2022, earning nine caps with six starts.
Tonga filled a large role for the Warriors in 2022, filling in for Paul Lasike as the Center dealt with a hamstring injury. The former Herriman High School standout scored two tries in addition to 468 meters on 47 carries, 38 tackles and four forced turnovers on the season.
Tonga finds himself in an interesting, yet beneficial situation once again in 2023. The Center position group may be the deepest and most talented of any team in the league, headlined by the return of Paul Lasike, the USA Eagle and former Harlequin who joined Utah midway through last season. The opportunity to learn from Lasike could prove vital for a young player like Tonga, who showed promise last season. Don't be surprised if that pays off for him sooner, rather than later in 2023.
Joe Mano was poised for a big season in 2021 before an ACL injury derailed what looked to be promising 2021 and 2022 seasons for the Warriors' Wing. That isn't to say that Mano didn't have an exceptional 2022 campaign. In fact, you could make the argument that there wasn't a better player in the MLR than Mano once he returned from his injury.
Mano played the final seven games for the Warriors in 2022, scoring seven tries and 35 total points. If there was a Comeback Player of the Year Award in the MLR, Mano would have been the runaway favorite.
But there is an award that Warriors' staff and fans expect Mano to be in contention for in 2023. The league's Player of the Year Award. If Mano can continue to build on his success in 2021 and 2022, both before and after an ACL injury, not only could he prove himself a star for Utah, but one of the top players in all of Major League Rugby. With the departure of Mikey Te'o and James Vaifale over the Summer, Mano is poised to be the guy alongside Mika Kruse in the Warriors' back line.
The former standout football player for Washington State turned rugby player is back with the Utah Warriors for his second stint after previously playing for the team in 2021. During his first season with Utah, Tago made four appearances, including three straight to end the season.
Following the 2021 Major League Rugby Season, Tago left the Warriors to pursue opportunities with the USA Rugby 7s team. Tago made his debut in the Dubai 7s and would go on to make four appearances for the USA 7s. Tago also helped the USA take Silver at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai in 2021. Now Tago is back in Utah and ready to make an impact for the Warriors this coming season.
Similar to Mano, the departure of Te'o and Vaifale over the offseason leaves Tago in a favorable position in a less-cluttered back line position group in Utah. Following his time with the USA 7s, look for Logan to play an even larger role for the Warriors in 2023 than his last stint with Utah in 2021.
The Warriors' hoped that the Lock from New Zealand would play a crucial role in a Championship run in 2022, but unfortunately a shoulder injury in the seventh game of the season forced Lane to miss the remaining nine matches. The injury also forced coaches and staff to get creative in order to help keep a depleted Lock position group afloat.
Now, Lane is healthy and back in Utah for a second season.
Eager to show off why Utah coaches and staff held him in such high regard, Lane is poised to play a large role in 2023 alongside free agent acquisition Hunga Havili. The departure of Puna Vuli to Japan leaves Utah to lean heavily on Lane this coming season, although the re-signing of Warrior No. 2 Saia 'Uhila provides an experienced leader and crucial depth at the Lock position. A healthy Lane should be a force to be reckoned with in 2023, especially after a strong showing this Summer with Auckland.
'Let the Hogs Ride' became a mantra of sorts for the Utah Warriors through the final five games of the 2022 season. Coincidentally, the Warriors went 3-2 with wins over Rugby ATL and the Austin Gilgronis during that stretch. The phrase was coined by Canadian Prop, and Warriors' third round draft pick, Emerson Prior.
While Emerson brought positivity and comedy to the team off the field, he brought physicality and toughness on it.
The rookie made seven appearances for Utah in 2022, with five coming of them coming in those final five matches of the season. He finished with 12 tackles and two dominant tackles in those appearances. But with his rookie season behind him, Prior set out to build on his success in 2022. Over the offseason, Prior traveled to New Zealand where he played for Auckland, honing his craft alongside Warriors teammate Jamie Lane and Assistant Coach Robbie Abel. As a result of his work, Prior was selected to the Rugby Canada Roster for Fall International Matches. Thanks to a strong finish to 2022 and an offseason filled with rugby, Prior is ready to 'Let the Hogs Ride' all season long in 2023.
Don't miss out on your opportunity to see these five players, along with the rest of the Utah Warriors, when they take the field in 2023. Secure your seats for the upcoming Utah Warriors Season by visiting warriorsrugby.com or by calling 801-477-7652 today.
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