Rested and ready and with a two-game winning streak, Old Glory DC travels to Quincy, Mass. on Saturday to face the league-leading New England Free Jacks. DC used the bye week to re-energize for the final five games of the season and will compete against a club that hasn’t lost a game in an MLR-record eight game. The Free Jacks ran away with the second half in the first match-up between the teams earlier this year at Segra, but OGDC has found new life with head coach Nate Osborne at the helm. Catch all the action on Saturday at 7:00 pm when the match is broadcast live on FS2.
Recharged After the Bye
The bye week came at a good time for Old Glory by breaking the season up into three sections. For the first five weeks, the team struggled with many lopsided losses. However, the next six games saw the score lines get tighter until breakthrough wins against Utah and Dallas. After the bye, the boys have found their confidence, joy, and drive to power through the season’s final matches.
“It was perfect timing to give the boys a refresh and come back for the last block of the season,” Peni Lasaqa said. “It was well-earned after the last two games. The boys know they have nothing to lose and just to throw it all out there. If it comes our way, it comes our way. Playing with no regrets.”
Roster Shuffle Due to Injuries
The bye week brought rejuvenation and reflection to the team and some unfortunate news on the availability front. Thretton Palamo is out for the season with a broken thumb, and Renata Roberts-Te Nana may miss Saturday with a knee issue. Additionally, Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz has been suspended for ten weeks for unsportsmanlike conduct following the Dallas game.
“It’s a big loss,” Osborne said. “Thretts is a great player and he’s a great leader. He was one of the first guys in Monday morning with a big smile on his face and was helping the boys out in training. His presence and attitude are good things. Junior [Sa’u] was starting to play well [at center] before Thretts returned and had his best game in the first half versus New York. It’s a good replacement that we have Junior in the centers.”
With those developments, Sa’u moves back to inside center, and Owen Sheehy will come in at fullback. Danny Tusitala and Rohan Saifoloi are the halfbacks, William Talataina is on the outside, and Peni Lasaqa and Doug Fraser are on the wings. Danny Thomas and John Rizzo will come off the bench.
In the forwards, Stan South is back and will rejoin Tevita Naqali at lock. The front row of Jack Iscaro, Rob Irimescu, and Kyle Stewart returns with Dante Lopresti, Mo Katz, and Jack Carroll backing them up. The blindside flanker will be Felix Kalapu and Cory Daniel will man the open-side with Luke Campbell moving back to No. 8. Api Naikitini, Dom Bailey, and Fintan Coleman complete the 6-2 split on the bench.
Into the Hornet’s Nest of the Best Team in the East
“Consistency sets them apart,” Osborne said, describing the Free Jacks. “Last year around this time, I said the same thing about Atlanta, and they won the East. Atlanta never really had a game when they were down, and it seems like New England, even in their one loss to LA, only lost by four points.”
New England has playmakers across the pitch but is led by their explosive flyhalf Beaudein Waaka. He is slippery and dastardly with ball in hand, with seven tries and a league-leading 109 total points. Hooker Pieter Jansen (5 tries) and back-rowers Jesse Parete, Joe Johnston (168 tackles), Slade McDowall (6 tries, MLR-high 190 tackles), and Wian Conradie make up a powerful and dynamic forward pack. Combine that with Mitch Wilson, Paula Balekena, and Dougie Fife in the back three and Le Roux Malan and Wayne van der Bank in the centers, New England has found the winning combination leading to a 10-1 record.
“The back row is all over the place making tackles and are all over the ball,” Osborne explained. “Their centers lay a good platform and get the really good go-forward ball. When their centers go forward, Waaka is given a lot of time and space, and he makes people look silly. We just have to be on our game defensively. Our communication and want to get up and make tackles have to be there this week.
“They are very dangerous in transition, with 50% of their tries coming from turnovers or poor kick chase. We need to be on with that and be ready all the time. If teams go to sleep for a little bit against them, that’s when they run up the score. We’re ready for an 80-minute arm wrestle and stay in the fight the whole time.”
Finish the Season Strong
“For us, we have to go out there and play our game,” Osborne indicated. “The players and coaches believed they had an opportunity to beat them earlier this season. A couple of things went the wrong way, but it was something that Danny Tusitala said, ‘We can’t just sit there and talk about how we could have beaten these teams. We got to go out and do it.'”
Lasaqa agreed to say, “Keep playing the way we’ve been playing. Have faith in what we’ve been training throughout the week, and have fun out there. We got nothing to lose, give it back to our fans and families and finish the year out strong.”
“The goal is to win the final five games of the season,” Osborne concluded. “Win all five games and end some people’s playoff hopes. We need to finish on a high and build into next season. Nobody expects anything from us, so we’re ready to continue what we’ve been doing for the last four weeks and fire shots.”