It’s time for our monthly edition of 30 Tickets where we give our take on the 30 players we think will make the Eagles World Cup qualifying squad (Note: The final roster may be less than 30 players)
Props: Shawn Pittman, Nick Wallace, Titi Lamositele, Eric Fry
After being up in the air for a long time the props seemed to have settled on Shawn Pittman, Nick Wallace, Titi Lamositele, and Eric Fry. Pittman is the team’s best scrummager but missed out on most of the November tour with injury. He should be healthy and ready to go. Wallace was one of the breakout players in November and barring something crazy will get another shot. Lamositele also proved he can contribute. Fry may have slid the most on the depth chart but he is still the only one of the four starting week in and week out for a pro club. Others like Patrick Latu, Olive Kilifi, and Blake Burdette will likely miss out unless there is an injury.
Hooker: Phil Thiel, Zach Fenoglio
Phil Thiel will be the starter against Uruguay while Zach Fenoglio should be his back up. Of course, Fenoglio’s place could hinge on whether Chris Biller is ready to play and whether he has returned to form. If not, Fenoglio should have no worries.
Lock: Samu Manoa, Tai Tuisamoa, Lou Stanfill, Brian Doyle
Samu Manoa fit in naturally at lock during November so there is no reason not to keep him in the position. The biggest question will be who he partners with. Both Lou Stanfill and Brian Doyle missed the November series but Graham Harriman stepped up to play well as did Tai Tuisamoa. Against Russia the pairing of Tuisamoa and Manoa was particularly effective and we wouldn’t bet against that happening again. Stanfill and Doyle will need to prove their fitness but given their experience are not bad options. We think Stanfill makes it but that only one of Doyle, Harriman, or John Cullen goes with our choice being Doyle.
Back-row: Todd Clever, Scott LaValla, Cam Dolan, Derek Asbun, John Quill, Peter Dahl
The starters in the back-row are set with Todd Clever, Scott LaValla, and Cam Dolan. The emergence of Dolan during the fall has been massive for the Eagles because it gives them another stud in the back allowing Clever to play in a freer role and Manoa to push into the locks. LaValla missed most of the November tour but did play against Russia and did well. Derek Asbun, John Quill, and Peter Dahl should be the back-ups. Dahl in particular had a massive game against the Maori All Blacks. Other players in consideration are Inaki Basauri and Danny Barrett.
Scrumhalf: Mike Peter, Robbie Shaw, Shawn Davies
Scrumhalf has been a position that the coaching staff hasn’t been pleased with this year. Each player has done some things well while struggling in other areas. Mike Petri is certainly a consideration but his time may be up. It wouldn’t surprise us if Petri, Robbie Shaw, and Shaun Davies were all called in for one final battle for the position.
Fly-half: Adam Siddall, Toby L’Estrange
This should be one of the more interesting decisions head coach Mike Tolkin has to make. He stuck with Toby L’Estrange throughout 2013 until he was injured in the fall. That opened the door for Adam Siddall to come in against Georgia and Russia. In terms of playmaking they may be even but Siddall’s boot was a weapon that can’t be overlooked. The Eagles need his consistency and our guess is that he remains the starter. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him or L’Estrange play another position just to get them on the pitch.
Center: Andrew Suniula, Seamus Kelly, Folau Niua, Roland Suniula
As we just mentioned it wouldn’t be a shock to see Siddall play in the centers. After all, he did it on multiple occasions this year. However, the pairing of Andrew Suniula and Folau Niua seemed to work well during the fall. Suniula has been one of the Eagles most consistent players over the last few years while Niua brings a lot of rugby intelligence to the position. So much so that he has pushed Seamus Kelly out of a starting spot. We think that Roland Suniula will earn a call back into the squad.
Wing: Blaine Scully, Tim Maupin, Luke Hume, Joe Cowley
There are real questions surrounding whether Taku Ngwenya will play this spring. With his club Biarritz struggling we don’t think he makes the trip. The good news for the Eagles is that in Blaine Scully and Tim Maupin they have two in form wings that should give Uruguay trouble. Scully has gotten even better since joining Leicester while Maupin was a breakout player in November. Luke Hume is still in the picture and is an impact player as a substitute. We also think Joe Cowley will be brought along for more experience.
Fullback: Chris Wyles, Zach Pangelinan
Scully and Siddall can play fullback but on the Eagles this position belongs to Chris Wyles. He will be the starter while Zach Pangelinan will back him up.
Predicted Roster: Pittman, Thiel, Wallace, Tuisamoa, Manoa, Clever, LaValla, Dolan, Shaw, Siddall, Maupin, A. Suniula, Niua, Scully, Wyles; Lamositele, Fenoglio, Fry, Stanfill, Doyle, Asbun, Quill, Dahl, Petri, Davies, L’Estrange, R. Kelly, Hume, Pangelinan, Cowley