The Player/Coach Leading the Seattle SeaWolves
Nearly two years ago Phil Mack was preparing to take charge of the Seattle Seawolves for their maiden campaign in Major League Rugby. Going into their first season Mack was unexpectedly called upon to expand his leadership role into coaching. The 32-year-old scrum-half served as both player and head coach as he led the team to beat the Colorado Raptors 23-19 in the Championship game.
A year later Mack was again a player-coach, although this time he was not leading the program. Serving as assistant coach to Richie Walker, Mack was a vital part yet again in Seattle's second shield win in two seasons.
This year Mack is not currently planning to lace his boots up for the Seawolves, instead the Canadian international will learn as much as he can from new Head Coach, Kees Lensing.
"We've had a few ups and downs with some coaching issues in the first two season, but what we have established with our core group of senior players is a really strong team culture." Mack said.
"It is very competitive and the guys, the players, drive the standards themselves. So, I think for any coach, that is the main battle; trying to get your team to hold themselves accountable. Luckily for us, we have a group of players that do that."
As well as winning everything on the field the first two seasons, Seattle have also been one of the most ferociously supported teams in MLR. They have consistently sold out their home pitch of Starfire Stadium.
"It was a bit of a shock in year one, we weren't sure who was going to show up. The club have put on an incredible game day experience, making the fans feel engaged." Mack said, "Word travels fast and those fans who showed up to have a peek at rugby really enjoyed themselves and have come back ever since.
"That is a testament to the city and how they back their teams, but also to our ownership group to make sure that the fans are enjoying themselves and it is a nice product."
Strengthening the side again this offseason, Seattle look as strong as ever heading into a new Major League Rugby season. Adding Argentina legend Juan Martin Leguizamon, as well as Ross Neal and Harry Davies to their squad, Lensing got three more players all accustomed to life as professional rugby players at very high levels.
No doubt hoping to add a third league title in three seasons, Seattle have developed a reputation for having a physical forward pack that opposition sides have found difficult to break down. With San Diego coming up in their first game, a repeat of last year's Championship game, Mack expects a physical game in California.
"We know it is going to be a physical game. We know that they are going to come after us and we have a ton of respect for San Diego, they have brought in a ton of reinforcements as well and we expect nothing less than a really good game of rugby. It is going to be exciting.
"I think a lot of teams are still going to be figuring their way in the first few weeks, maybe getting rid of any cobwebs and getting into the swing of things." Mack said, "But, we know San Diego are going to bring it, they have great coaches, great players and I know our boys are excited for it."
Major League Rugby is centered on three core values: respect, inclusion, and tradition. Throughout the season, Major League Rugby is focused on how these values apply to players and teams. In February the core value is respect, which Mack believes to be the most important value.
"The nature of the last two years, having been very player driven, you need to have that mutual respect between each other. You kind of check your egos at the door, making sure that everyone feels included and that everyone has a voice on the team.
"To me, that is what separates rugby from every other sport. We have a great respect for the hard work that the Seattle Saracens [Seattle's local club team] have done." Mack said, "They have put in a ton of groundwork over the last 20 years to help us be successful as well."
Seattle's opening weekend trip to San Diego will be the first Major League Rugby game featured on the CBS Sports Network (CBSSN) of the 2020 season. The CBS Game of the Week airs on CBSSN at 2:00 PM PT. For fans located in California, tickets are available to purchase here.
Written by: Joe Harvey
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