When the Colorado Raptors announced their intention to withdraw from Major League Rugby back on April 9, it left people with several different questions.

Several of those questions remain unanswered some three months later, but one thing that we continue to learn about is where the players that made up the 2020 version of the Raptors will be playing their rugby in 2021.

Dispersal Draft

Even with the absence of the Raptors, Major League Rugby will grow from 12 teams to 13 teams when they resume play in 2021 as the Dallas Jackals and the Los Angeles Giltinis have joined the competition.

There is a good chance that a significant portion of those teams will be made up of former Raptors players that are looking for new places to continue their rugby career with Colorado off the table. Dallas and Los Angeles received the first crack at the Raptors as a part of a dispersal draft that took place not long after Colorado’s announcement.

Dallas and LA took alternated picks until Colorado’s roster was shaken down, and now we are beginning to see who will be donning another team’s jersey when 2021 rolls around. Just because a player may have been drafted to a specific team does not mean that’s where he will end up, though. If a deal was not hammered out in the allotted time frame after the dispersal draft, that player became a free agent and was free to sign with whatever team they please.

Dallas Jackals Withdraw From 2021 Season

Every player below would have played for the Dallas Jackals in 2021 if the team didn’t decide to push back their inaugural season until 2022. Now, these players will be looking for their second team to play for this offseason. Players were given the option to take a severance package that would pay them 50 percent of their money or be reentered into another dispersal draft where all 12 MLR teams could pick up their rights. This list will be updated when the player signs to their next team for the 2021 season.

Chad London

Chad London was one of the best players on the Raptors’ roster during their three seasons in the MLR. He’s a reliable center that produces when he’s on the pitch. Through the first three MLR seasons, London carried the ball 149 times for six tries while also making 214 tackles on the defensive side of the ball. In 2019 alone, London carried the ball 89 times for 1,0111 meters and four tries on attack. On defense, he made 110 tackles. The Jackals hit a home run with this signing.

Kelepi Fifita

Kelepi Fifita spent all three of his first three years in Major League Rugby as a member of the Raptors and turned himself into a solid prop. Fifita’s best season as a Raptor came in 2018. He finished that season with 42 carries for one try while also making 68 tackles to help the Raptors advance to the inaugural Major League Rugby championship. Fifita finished his Raptors career with 104 carries, 168 tackles, and one try.

Los Angeles Giltinis

Unlike the Jackals, the Giltinis have not been public with their signings to this point. Their social media accounts have been dormant since the MLR Draft occurred on June 13, so it hasn’t been as easy to keep up with their signings to this point. While I know for a fact there will be a few former Raptors soaking up the sun in L.A. come 2021, there has only been one player that has confirmed on the record that they will be a Giltini next season.

Blake Rogers

Blake Rogers spent the first three years of Major League Rugby as a member of the Raptors and confirmed on The MLR Rant podcast last month that he will be suiting up as a Giltini in Los Angeles next spring. Rogers was sidelined for the 2020 season after tearing his pectoral muscle in a preseason match in Las Vegas, but was a productive player through his first two seasons. He finishes his Raptors’ career with 109 carries and 136 tackles. In 2019 alone, Rogers carried the ball 68 times for 376 meters and made 58 tackles.

GLENDALE, CO – MARCH 2: Blake Rogers walks onto the pitch from the locker room ahead of a match between the Glendale Raptors vs Toronto Arrows Major League Rugby match at Infinity Park on March 2, 2019 in Glendale, Colorado. (Photo by Seth McConnell)

John Ryberg

Very few players in Major League Rugby have been better about finding the try line than former Raptor wing John Ryberg. While an injury kept him sidelined for a major of the 2018 season, he led all try scorers in the MLR during the 2019 season with 13 on 138 carries for 1,567 meters while also making 87 tackles on defense. His physicality and knack for the end zone make this a homerun signing for the Giltinis.

Luke White

If the Giltinis were looking for a leader, that’s what they grabbed when they signed Luke White. The big lock, who served as the Raptors captain in 2020, did everything the Raptors asked him to do and more during his six years with the club. Whether that be slimming down to play lock instead of prop, picking up the tough meters, or playing with a hole in his chin, White did it all. His toughness, size, and work rate make him one of the best forwards in Major League Rugby, and he will pick up right where he left off with the Giltinis.

Ryan James

After initially signing to play in Dallas in 2021, Ryan James will be heading home to California to play with the Giltinis instead. 20-year-old James is a product of the Glendale Raptors Rugby Academy. For being just 20 years old, James has played some high-level rugby all over the world. The two-time High School All-American played the 2017 and 2018 seasons in the Raptors Rugby Academy before joining the San Diego Legion Academy for 2019. He signed his first professional contract with the Raptors ahead of the 2020 season. He appeared in one match for the Raptors in 2020 while continuing to play for the Glendale Merlins.

Marco Fepulea’i

Marco Fepulea’i joins Ryan James and becomes the second former Raptor to jump from the Jackals to the Giltinis ahead of the 2021 season. Fepulea’i was the most reliable Raptor on the pitch in 2020. A favorite of Director of Rugby Mark Bullock, Fepulea’i was a rock at prop for Colorado. He started all five matches that the Raptors played in 2020 after concussion issues sidelined him for portions of the 2019 season. His presence provides the Jackals with immediate stability at prop as they enter the 2021 season.

Other Signings

While the Jackals and Giltinis will most likely be the two teams that carry the most former Raptors in 2021, there will be several players that wind up playing for other teams in Major League Rugby and across the globe.

Sakaria Taulafo

Sakaria Taulafo was one of the most experienced players the Raptors fielded in 2020. He came to the Raptors with 44 caps for Samoa with stops at Nelson Bays, Tasman, London Wasps, and Stade Français. The 37-year-old prop appeared in all five matches that the Raptors played in 2020 and totaled 13 ball carries for 52 meters while making 19 tackles on defense. He missed just one tackle in 2020.

Michael Curry

Michael Curry becomes the second Raptor to head to Japan for 2021 after his agency announced on Instagram that he had signed with the Toyota Industries Shuttles of Japan’s Top Challenge League. Curry started four matches in 2020 and appeared in all five of the matches that the Raptors played during the shortened season. In his lone season with the Raptors, the 26-year-old second-rower totaled 108 meters on 25 ball carries and made 34 tackles on defense.

Sean Yacoubian

Sean Yacoubian will head up to New England for the 2021 season after spending the 2020 season with the Raptors. Originally from Scotland, the 26-year-old scrum-half spent his final three years of college at St. Mary’s College of California where he earned Collegiate All-American honors. Yacoubian earned 20 minutes of match time in Colorado’s Round 4 win over the Utah Warriors.

Steve Brett

The lastest former Raptor to sign with another club comes via the coaching staff as Steve Brett announced via an Instagram post that he will join Rugby ATL for the 2021 season. Originally from New Zealand, Brett joined the Raptors’ coaching staff as an attack coach for the 2020 season after six matches with RC Narbonne in France in 2019. His career in France began in 2013 when he played in 25 matches for Bayonne. He played for Lyon and ASM Clermont Auvergne while in France. Before going to France he played for the Toyota Verblitz of Japan’s Top League and the Crusaders and Blues of Super Rugby.

Rene Ranger

One of the biggest names to compete in Major League Rugby in 2020 is headed back to Super Rugby to compete for the Crusaders ahead of Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021. Rene Ranger made it to Colorado just days before the Raptors traveled to Houston for their Round 1 bout with the SaberCats. Ranger appeared in four of the five matches that the Raptors played in 2020, scoring two tries against the Utah Warriors to help Colorado log their first win of the season. His presence in the midfield and versatility to play out on the wing will be extremely valuable as the Crusaders get set to defend their Super Rugby Aotearoa title.

Connor Cook

Rugby ATL picked up a very physical player when they signed former Raptor Connor Cook. Cook played four seasons with the Raptors after playing his college rugby at Arkansas State. The flanker’s best season came in 2019 when he totalled 344 meters on 47 carries and made 104 tackles on defense. He played in all five of Colorado’s matches in 2020, with his best 80-minute shift coming in the Raptors 22-14 win over the Utah Warriors in Round 4 in which he made 15 tackles. He suffered an injury in the final match of the season, but his big performance helped Colorado to a 22-19 victory over the Arrows.

Robbie Petzer

Plans for 2021 have changed three times for center Robbie Petzer. After previously announcing on the DNVR Rugby Podcast that he would be joining the Tokyo Gas of Japan’s Top East League in 2021, the Dallas Jackals announced that Petzer would be heading to Texas for the 2021 MLR season. All of that changed again when Dallas announced that they would push their inaugural season to 2022 just 60 days before the season. After another dispersal draft to divvy up the now-teamless Jackals, Petzer wound up signing in Atlanta with Rugby ATL. Petzer was one of the Raptors most productive players on the field since he joined the team in 2019. He finished his Raptors career with 101 carries for 886 meters gained and five tries in 19 appearances. He scored 106 points for the Raptors and made 115 tackles.

Campbell Johnstone

Campbell Johnstone had originally signed to play his rugby with the Dallas Jackals in 2021 but has found his way back to Glendale to play his rugby with the Colorado XOs as the Crossover Academy gets off the ground, per a team source. The Colorado native is another product of the Raptors U23 Academy. Johnstone played the 2018 season with the Academy before signing a Major League Rugby contract with the Raptors prior to the 2019 season. The 21-year-old wing appeared in two matches in 2019, totaling four carries for 22 meters and making four tackles. He did not see the field in the five matches the Raptors played in the abbreviated 2020 season.

Campbell Johnstone (Photo: Colorado Raptors Rugby)

Carlo de Nysschen

Carlo de Nysschen had originally signed to play in Dallas in 2021 but had his rights picked up by the San Diego Legion following the supplemental draft. He joined the Raptors in 2017 as a part of their academy program. After two years of development with the Glendale Merlins, de Nysschen made his Major League Rugby debut during the 2019 season. He appeared in 11 matches in 2019, totaling 33 carries for 228 meters and two tries while also making 37 tackles on defense. The scrum-half played in all five of the matches that the Raptors played in 2020, finishing with 11 carries for 48 meters and 22 tackles on defense. At just 24 years old, the Jackals have secured themselves a quality scrum-half for years to come.

Kody O’Neil

Kody O’Neil was supposed to join the Dallas Jackals in 2021, but will instead head to Houston to play for the SaberCats after three extremely productive seasons with the Raptors. During those three seasons, O’Neil totaled 91 ball carries for one try and made 180 tackles on defense. He had only missed one tackle in the five matches the Raptors played in 2020 before the season was canceled.

Nick Boyer

Nick Boyer originally announced on the DNVR Rugby Podcast that he will play his rugby with the Los Angeles Giltinis in 2021 after being selected in the dispersal draft that took place shortly after the Raptors announced their decision to withdraw from Major League Rugby. His plans changed when the Giltinis announced that he was traded to the Houston SaberCats after Round 3 for cap considerations. Boyer played for the Raptors prior to the existence of MLR but signed with the San Diego Legion for the inaugural season in 2018. After two years with the Legion, Boyer returned to the Raptors and was off to a hot start in 2020. He appeared in all five matches that made up the shortened 2020 season, scoring two tries on 14 carries for 97 meters. He finished the 2020 season with 16 tackles on defense.

Chad Gough

Chad Gough is heading home to play for the Utah Warriors after the Dallas Jackals made the decision to withdraw from the 2021 season. Gough was in the middle of an outstanding second season with the Raptors before the season was called off in March. He finished the 2020 season with 27 ball carries for 113 meters and 44 tackles. In his two seasons with the Raptors, Gough totaled 87 ball carries for 722 meters and four tries while also making 108 tackles. Utah is receiving an extremely valuable hooker who is chomping at the bit to take over the starting role.

Mika Kruse

The Utah Warriors snatched up one of Colorado’s best young players by trading cap considerations with the Los Angeles Giltinis for versatile wing and center Mika Kruse after he was originally selected by Los Angeles in last summer’s expansion draft. Having joined the Raptors in 2017 through their academy, Kruse saw valuable minutes on the pitch from the very beginning of Major League Rugby. The 22-year-old punched in three tries on 78 carries for 722 meters while also making 60 tackles in 2019. He scored an important try on the kickoff that started the second half in the Raptors 22-19 victory over the Toronto Arrows in what was the Raptors’ last match of the 2020 season.

THIS ARTICLE WILL BE UPDATED AS MORE SIGNINGS ARE ANNOUNCED

Colton Strickler
Author

Colton Strickler is a Colorado guy through and through. He is a Wheat Ridge Farmer and a Colorado State Ram. He has been involved in the Colorado rugby community in some capacity since 2011. He was Major League Rugby's lead writer in 2018 and 2019 before joining DNVR Rugby.

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