New York rugby team faces Seattle for the title amid unexpected teams tracks

New York City has a championship-caliber team on its hands — and no, it’s not the Yankees or the Mets.

Rugby New York prepares to face the Seattle SeaWolves in its Major League Rugby Championship game on Saturday at the Red Bull Arena. National televised coverage of the fight will begin on Fox at 12 p.m. EST.

The league, now in its fifth season, constitutes the highest level of rugby competition on American soil. What started with seven teams has now grown into 13 teams spread across key markets in the US and Canada.

For New York and Seattle, the path to a shot at the MLR Shield—an 80-pound award made of carbon steel and titanium—wasn’t easy. The match of 16, which lasted 18 weeks, was filled with heavy blows, shocking scandals and unbearable turmoil.

With a strong regular season kicking off as they finished 11-5 and third in the Eastern Conference, the New York rugby team entered post-season looking to win their first playoff game since MLR’s inaugural season in 2018. After losing back-to-back Conference Championships in 2019 and 2021, CEO Rick Salizzo and his team are determined to take a deep tour in 2022.

New York rugby pool members
Rugby New York set out to make up for back-to-back Conference Championship losses.
Getty Images New York rugby

“When you lose two conference finals in the last second by a point or two, that starts to hurt you, and when it hurts you know,” Salizzo told The Post. “When we went to the playoffs this year, we were very determined that it never happened again.”

Sure enough, New York defeated ATL 26-19 rugby at the Eastern Eliminator. Rugby ATL was the same team that knocked out Rugby New York from the playoffs last year. One week later, New York upset top seed New England Free Jack—who led the league in points and wins—24-16 in the Eastern Conference final.

Just like that, the New York rugby team hit their ticket to the championship game. Before settling at JFK Stadium in Hoboken this season, Salizzo even struggled to find a place for his team to play.

She previously played rugby New York and Seattle Sea Wolves in May.
She previously played rugby New York and Seattle Sea Wolves in May.
Getty Images New York rugby

“At the start of last season, we were digging ourselves out of the ice so we could find a place to train,” said Salizzo. “We didn’t have a floor because of COVID – all the stadiums we would normally play in were closed.

“Now we are getting ready to go out on Red Bull and play in the final of the MLR Championship. So it was a really fun ride with a lot of twists and turns, but…it led us to the right place.”

A Seattle trip to this point was unlikely. The Seawolves were athletically eliminated from the playoff competition after a lackluster 9-7 season, but earned a miraculous berth after Austin Gilgronis and Los Angeles Gillettes were disqualified for unspoken rule violations. Seattle, the 2018 and 2019 champions, did not let his golden opportunity go to waste, reaching the tournament by defeating the San Diego Legion 43-19 and the Houston SaberCats 46-27.

Major League Rugby is the highest level rugby league in America.
Getty Images New York rugby

“They’re going to be a hell of a opponent,” Salizzo said of the Sea Wolves. “They have a great, strong attacking squad … and their backs are really fast and exciting, so we know we have a real challenge on our hands.”

Salizzo knows, however, that his buddies will be up to the test. New York rugby is played by many superstars, including Rugby World Cup champion Andy Ellis, New Zealand-born Will Tucker (who is preparing to face his brother Brad for the tournament) and local talents Conor Buckley, John Powers and Nick Civita. For Civita, a native of Scarsdale, playing for his hometown team is a dream come true.

“I always had the idea that if I could play at home, I would absolutely jump at the chance,” Civita said. “So to have professional rugby here and be with the family was great, and I really enjoyed every moment of it.”

Playing alongside Buckley and Powers, long-time residents of Rockaway and Queens and alumni of Xavier High School, is a treat.

“They added a New York flavor to the team,” Civita said. “You can see them get better week by week. They were so great, sometimes they bring cake, which makes me happy and keeps the boys happy.”

It remains to be seen if festive New York cakes are in store on Saturday night.

Leave a Comment