With Toby L’Estrange and Adam Siddall both out with injuries (broken leg and concussion respectively) Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin and his staff are going to have to find a new starter at fly-half for their summer test series. The last time one of those two players didn’t start at the position was over two years ago. The last regular starting fly-half for the team was Roland Suniula and before that it was Nese Malifa.
Obviously a lot of things have changed since then and there are a number of options to look at. We break down those that we think have a chance.
Current Pool Members: Folau Niua, Shalom Suniula
Suniula and Niua are the only players currently in the player pool that have spent time at fly-half. Niua was the back-up at the position to L’Estrange during the World Cup qualifying series against Canada last year. He came on and gave the team energy. His play was strong enough that Tolkin found a place for him in the squad going forward at center. He seems set there but in a pinch can play fly-half. Suniula filled the same role but in the Uruguay series. He did well but is also being looked at scrumhalf. If we had to choose we think that Suniula gets the opportunity as center is a little thin at the moment.
Domestic Possibilities: Volney Rouse, Zach Pangelinan, Mike Graham, Taylor Howden, Keegan Engelbrecht, Tai Enosa
The Pacific Rugby Premiership has allowed several players to put themselves in the spotlight. Zach Pangelinan has been with the Eagles before and has dabbled at fly-half but is seen more as a fullback. He’s played fullback for OMBAC this season and has runaway with the scoring title. It’s hard to argue against a player that is playing so well. Maybe he gets another look after being on the outs for a little bit.
Volney Rouse is another player that has had a sniff with the Eagles before but it’s been a very long time. The door is most likely shut but SFGG is playing well and much of that comes down to Rouse. His teammate Tai Enosa is also a possibility but has been playing fullback.
Glendale have been the surprise squad of the PRP led by a high octane offense. Mike Graham has been the center of that. He has a strong boot and is a good organizer. Cross-town rival Taylor Howden is another possibility but is a long shot. His Barbarians teammate Maximo De Achaval is more likely but when he got the chance with the Selects at the ARC he was used at fullback. Lastly, Keegan Engelbrecht didn’t play for a good team but he earned praise for his performance with Olympic Club.
Collegians: Garrett Brewer, Jake Anderson
St. Mary’s is arguably the best team in the country and Garrett Brewer is the best player on the Gaels. He has All-American experience and could make the jump straight to the Eagles. Cal’s Jake Anderson is another player with All-American experience as well as big game experience with Cal.
Foreign/Young Options: Will Magie, Gearoid McDonald
It was Magie’s first year as a pro with Ealing this year. He didn’t see much time with the first team but did see reserve time. As an immediate option he is a long-shot but now may be the time to start building for after the World Cup. The same goes for McDonald. After playing at the ARC in 2012 he went back to Ireland and is playing with Landsdowne. He is also young and is an option for the future.
Not Yet Eligible: James Bird, AJ MacGinty
Old Blue’s James Bird has been an up and coming fly-half. He’s still young, has UK citizenship (he’s Welsh), and is about a year and half away from gaining citizenship. MacGinty has been talked about as a very real possibility when he becomes eligible. That won’t happen until early next year but some have him tabbed as the Eagles starting fly-half at the World Cup.
Long-shots: Nese Malifa, Roland Suniula
After a string of injuries Malifa is back playing but hasn’t played high level 15s in a long time. Suniula has been playing professionally in France for two years now but has almost exclusively played center. He’s a natural center but did start for the Eagles during the World Cup. Emergency duty wouldn’t be crazy but Suniula hasn’t been with the Eagles for several assemblies.
In the end we think that either Niua or Shalom Suniula get the chance with Brewer as back-up.