Our 8-part series breaking down the 2023 roster starts at the back with the positions collectively known as the back three: the wings and the fullback. The positions will be filled almost entirely by familiar faces, with only one new player added. It will also be a relatively seasoned unit, with no rookies and only a single second-year pro.

ReturningNewLeaving
Peni LasaqaKurt BakerRenata Roberts-Te Nana
Junior Sa'uJack Russell
Mike DabulasMichah Griffin
Owen Sheehy
John Rizzo

So much returning experience

Old Glory is returning a lot of top notch players this year. Peni Lasaqa, the young speedster who lit up the league last year, and Junior Sa'u, the rugby league convert who started at center but found his true calling on the wing, are both returning. Despite having a 13-year age gap, they had a running battle for the most tries scored on the team. They ended last year tied for fourth in the league at 9 tries each. If they can rival that performance again it can only mean good things for Old Glory.

Also returning is fan-favorite Mike "Chicken" Dabulas. Primarily a fullback, Dabulas has also played on the wing frequently and occasionally stepped in at flyhalf. He looked electric last season and was one of the only players getting the team on the front foot in the early matches. Unfortunately, he was sidelined with injury halfway through last season, preventing him from making a bigger impact. He seems to be back to full health now and can hopefully find his prior form.

Promising young bucks Owen Sheehy and John Rizzo will still be around as backups. It will be Sheehy's third year with the team, having played only a small amount in 2021 before stepping into a very significant role in 2022. Rizzo only joined late last season, but had an immediate impact when he did.

An exciting new addition

There is only one new addition to the back three this year, but he's an exciting one: Kurt Baker, a legend of the New Zealand 7s team. Signed as a player-coach, we don't know what the balance of his contributions will come on the field vs off it, but either way he brings a wealth of experience playing rugby and should be a huge asset. Fans of the USA 7s team will likely be well aware of his reputation as a pest and difficult player to play against. I'm hoping that's something he can pass on to the younger players, particularly Owen Sheehy.

Farewell to the second-most-capped OGDC player

There are several players leaving, most notably Renata Roberts-Te Nana. The New Zealander has been a fixture of the team, appearing in 35 of Old Glory's 37 matches and playing for 2,610 of the 2,960 possible minutes. That puts him second all time, just behind Danny Tusitala in both stats. With the team struggling last year, he was one of the few players who could gain meters regardless. He has been a very recognizable part of the team for years and his absence will definitely be noticed.

Also leaving is Jack Russell, a promising young player who was injured early in the season last year, and Michah Griffin, a Young Glory fullback who was called up to the senior squad last year. Russell is the more surprising exit of the two, as he played in a few matches and looked decent. Griffin, on the other hand, never appeared in any matches.

Predicted depth chart

The ideal lineup for Old Glory would clearly have some combination of Junior Sa'u, Peni Lasaqa, Mike Dabulas, and Kurt Baker, with three starting and the fourth coming off the bench. However, we might never actually see that lineup, as only Dabulas is a domestic player and foreign player slots will be at a premium this season. We may see Sheehy or Rizzo more than one would expect as a result. We may also see other domestic players like Doug Fraser or Marcos Young cover at wing as well, especially since Fraser has played there for OGDC before.

Expectations for 2023

I'm super excited to see this group this season. It's full of electric players with proven talent who should be able to tear up the league like they started doing towards the end of last year. I'm disappointed about the loss of Renata Roberts-Te Nana, but I don't think his absence will hold the team back.


Check out the rest of the series:


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