In part 3, we take a look at one of most pivotal areas of the roster, and the one with the most turnover: flyhalf. Last year's starter is out and a whole new set of players are coming in. Can Old Glory recapture the magic of the Jason Robertson days?
If you wanted to make a "Rohan" pun, you've missed your chance
Last year's starter, Rohan Saifoloi, will be departing after never quite settling into comfortable form with the team. Despite being an experienced player from the NPC, which is a step above the MLR, his style of facilitation didn't match what the team needed from him. While he improved towards the end of the season, coaches clearly felt that he wasn't the best long-term option.
An all-new stable of flyhalf
Saifoloi will be replaced by senior Argentine international Tito Diaz Bonilla, a veteran with experience in all of the top professional leagues: Super Rugby, Top 14, Premiership, and URC. He should be a big improvement on Saifoloi in a number of areas, providing more creative attacking flair and more reliable kicking. It's pretty clear that the team didn't want to risk being stuck with an underperforming flyhalf again, so they splurged on a high-end player.
For the first time, too, there will be real backup at flyhalf. In the past, OGDC has relied on players from other positions take up the role, such as Mike Dabulas, Danny Tusitala, and Willie Talataina. This year, however, Canadian international Gradyn Bowd will be ready to step in if there's an injury. While his experience is entirely at the amateur and semi-pro level, he should be a decent second option.
Old Glory also took Mike Weir out of Dartmouth in the 2022 draft, giving them a third option. Realistically, it's unlikely that Weir will be trusted with significant minutes at flyhalf in his first pro season. We usually see backs debut on the wings regardless of their preferred position, as it's much easier for the team to work around an inexperienced player on the wing rather than at flyhalf or center. He's a good long term prospect at flyhalf, though, so hopefully we'll see Weir take control of the back line sooner rather than later.
Then again, Old Glory hasn't done a lot to support domestic options at flyhalf on its roster. Dabulas played flyhalf in college and was listed as a flyhalf in 2020, but has since been moved to fullback full time. Despite bringing a spark to the 10 jersey last year for a few matches, the team has never committed to Dabulas as a serious, long-term option at that position. Whether that's his choice or theirs, I couldn't say, but it has annoyed some fans who want to see more domestic flyhalves being given time in the league.
Predicted depth charge
The hierarchy is pretty clear. Tito Diaz Bonilla is the obvious starter, with Gradyn Bowd the obvious backup. Mike Weir technically comes third, but I would expect the team to turn to Dabulas or Talataina first simply based on experience.
Expectations for 2023
I will be disappointed by anything other than a major improvement at flyhalf. Diaz Bonilla looks like the real deal, and for once he's not the only option. Old Glory has run into problems in the past when their flyhalves have been injured, so it's comforting to see Bowd there. I don't expect a lot from Weir just yet, but he should grow a lot from training with Diaz Bonilla and others.
Check out the rest of the series: