FROM DEBUT TO DOMINANCE: A Close Look at the Free Jacks’ New Players and Their Unique Impacts on the Pitch.

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Blog, Featured News, News | 0 comments

FROM DEBUT TO DOMINANCE: A Close Look at the Free Jacks’ New Players and Their Unique Impacts on the Pitch.

During the first four games of their MLR Shield defense campaign, the New England Free Jacks debuted 12 new players. Spanning from a captain of a national team to veteran globetrotters and young bucks exploding onto the scene, these Free Jack debutants have already made a major impact in competitions across the world and on the pitch stateside in Major League Rugby.

 Featuring John-Roy Jenkinson (center) / Photography Credit: Katelyn Fay and Burt Granofsky

John-Roy Jenkinson

Free Jack #90

Hailing from Worcester, South Africa, John-Roy Jenkinson is a behemoth veteran prop that helps complete the Free Jack’s stellar front row. A product of Glenwood High School, Jenkinson represented South Africa’s “Baby Boks” U20s in the 2011 IRB Junior World Championship. Shortly after, Jenkinson played in South Africa’s premier domestic rugby competition, the Currie Cup. 

Over a decade, Jenkinson played with the Leopards, Bulls, Cheetahs, and Griquas in the Currie Cup. He also signed with the Munakata Sanix Blues in Japan’s Top League in 2018. After returning home to South Africa to play for the Griquas, Jenkinson made the move to MLR in 2022 with Rugby ATL. Adding to his rugby journey around the globe, Jenkinson signed a short-term contract to French Nationale team Racing Club Narbonne in 2023 before being acquired by the Free Jacks. 

So far this season, Jenkinson started at tighthead prop in the Free Jacks’ first three MLR matches of 2024. The recent additions to the Free Jacks’ formidable forward pack have proven to be exceptionally successful. New England has won 24 out of 26 attacking scrums this season and looks to continue their scrummaging victories. 

 Featuring Martín Sigren (center) / Photography Credit: Burt Granofsky and Brendan Buckley

Martín Sigren

Free Jack #91

A native of Santiago, Chile, Martín Sigren is a hard-hitting flanker and Chilean international who captained his country during the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. Ever since he made his international test debut against South Korea in 2016, Sigren has been the backbone of the Chilean forward pack. He led his country to their first-ever Rugby World Cup where they competed bravely against top rugby nations Argentina, England, Japan, and Samoa. 

Sigren first picked up the rugby ball at school and soon after began playing with the local Santiago side, Old Boys Club. The back row maestro went professional in Super Rugby Americas for Santiago franchise Selknam, where they reached the 2022 Final. 

His stand-out performances for Selknam earned him a contract for the Doncaster Knights in the English Championship for the 2023 season. Sigren became the first-ever Chilean to play professional rugby in England. After a year in Doncaster and the Rugby World Cup, he was picked up by the Free Jacks for 2024. 

“I’ve been loving my stay here, we have a really great group of lads,” stated Martín in a post-match interview about his teammates and stay in the Greater Boston area. “The staff are great and everything they’ve built up here is world-class. I enjoy the ocean [and] the big trees. The city is really nice with how tidy and clean it is.”

It’s safe to say that Martín Sigren is having a great time on and off the pitch with the Free Jacks. Having made four starts in his first four games for New England, the Chilean captain has shown his dependability on both sides of the ball with 24 carries and 47 tackles made at a success rate of 96%.

 Featuring Danyon Morgan-Puterangi (center) / Photography Credit: Brendan Buckley

Danyon Morgan-Puterangi

Free Jack #92

Brought up in a footy-loving family with 11 siblings in Auckland, New Zealand, Danyon Morgan-Puterangi is a versatile flyhalf/fullback with a plethora of rugby knowledge. He has played the majority of his career for Takapuna RFC, his home club, in the North Harbour club competition. 

Since 2016, Danyon has been a part of the New Zealand touch rugby team, endearingly known as the ‘Touch Blacks.’ With Danyon’s experience in this fast-growing code of the game, the skills are more than transferable into 15s.

“Playing touch internationally has played a big influence on my skill set for the 15s code. It helps massively with the speed of the game and my evasion skills,” explains Danyon. “The touch requirements of vision and passing ability translate well onto the rugby pitch.” 

In 2022, Danyon steered Takapuna to a North Harbour club championship, drawing attention from North Harbour’s NPC side for the following season. After being named in North Harbour’s NPC squad in 2023, Danyon had his breakthrough season in NPC where he scored four tries in five matches. 

The Kiwi utility back has stood out for the Free Jacks with strong running performances on the wing. This past weekend against the Chicago Hounds, Danyon carried the ball eight times for a whopping 148 meters, averaging 18 meters per carry. He made two offloads, one of which followed a dead sprint up the blind sideline and set up the play of the match; a perfectly placed offload to flyhalf Jayson Potroz who leaped over the line for a Free Jacks’ try.

Against the Hounds, Danyon was purely fundamental on the wing, beating five defenders and making three clean breaks along the way. And on defense, the North Harbour man showed his textbook tackling abilities with seven tackles. Danyon affirmed that “this weekend [April 6th] is another great opportunity to display that and hopefully the game drivers can set me up for some attacking opportunities again!” 

 Featuring Sean Ralph (center) / Photography Credit: Brendan Buckley

Sean Ralph

Free Jack #93

Coming out of the Waikato region of New Zealand, Sean Ralph is a 20-year-old hooker who has been featured as a dependable finisher at the position. Sean attended Hamilton Boys High School, where he was the Head Boy and played rugby for the First XV. Upon his high school graduation, Sean was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools squad in 2021. 

Sean continued his education at the University of Waikato while playing for local club team, Te Awamutu Sports. Projected to graduate in 2025, the well-rounded hooker is studying mechatronics engineering while propelling his professional rugby career. 

Sean represented the New Zealand U20 Barbarians in 2022 and played for Super Rugby’s Chiefs U20 squad last spring. Last year, Sean made his debut in New Zealand’s NPC for Waikato and played in every match. The young hooker scored two tries in his first season at Waikato. During Waikato’s NPC Quarter Final match against Wellington, Sean demonstrated his clutch gene off the bench by scoring in the 73rd minute. So far on the Free Jacks, Sean has been featured as a finisher against Anthem Rugby Carolina, Old Glory DC, and the Chicago Hounds.

 Featuring Kaleb Geiger (center) / Photography Credit: Brendan Buckley and Katelyn Fay

Kaleb Geiger

Free Jack #94

Born at the base of the Rockies and raised by loggers in Sedalia, Colorado, tighthead prop Kaleb Geiger started his rugby career at Rugbytown Crossover Academy in his home state. Kaleb was a three-sport athlete at Concordia University in Nebraska where he competed in football, baseball, and wrestling. 

He had never played rugby before when he first started training at Rugbytown Crossover Academy, a program designed to convert American college athletes into professional rugby players. Kaleb joined Rugby New York in 2021, having competed with some of the top division one and academy rugby squads with the Crossover Academy. 

After scoring five tries and winning the 2022 MLR Shield with New York, he was selected to start for the US Eagles against Portugal and Georgia in the Summer Internationals series alongside Free Jacks’ winger Mitch Wilson. The 27-year-old prop was signed by the Free Jacks in the 2023 Dispersal Draft. As another addition to the Free Jacks’ front-row bomb squad, Kaleb has made a major impact in the second half of three Free Jacks’ wins versus Anthem, NOLA, and Chicago. 

 Featuring Cam Nordli-Kelemeti (center) / Photography Credit: Burt Granofsky and Brendan Buckley

Cam Nordli-Kelemeti

Free Jack #95

Originally a native of Vatu, Fiji, scrumhalf Cam Nordli-Kelemeti moved to North Yorkshire, England on a scholarship to Terrington Hall Prep School when he was 11 years old. Excelling in school rugby, Cam later attended the Durham School where he was selected to play for the England U18s. 

The elusive scrumhalf was signed by the Newcastle Falcons Academy soon after. In 2018, Cam made his senior debut with the English Premiership side against the Harlequins and went on to play 33 games, scoring tries in both the Premiership and the European Challenge Cup. In 2021, the 24-year-old was loaned to the Jersey Reds in the English Championship, gaining valuable experience to bring back to Newcastle. 

The Fijian-born scrumhalf is eligible to play for Canada and England national teams through adoption, raising the eyebrows of MLR general managers. Cam has also represented England Sevens in the Junior Commonwealth Games, and has played for Ramblin Jesters sevens program, founded by Free Jacks co-owner, David Barry. 

Once New England swooped in and acquired Cam, he has proven himself a valuable asset at number nine in the absence of injured veteran John Poland. Cam made his debut for the Free Jacks off the bench against Anthem and continued in the #21 shirt at home against NOLA, winning both. He started for the Free Jacks on the road in Chicago, coming home to Quincy victorious. Looking back at his first few matches, Cam has recorded an impressive 96% accuracy rate from his 95 passes behind the ruck. 

 Featuring Kyle Baillie (center) / Photography Credit: Burt Granofsky and Brendan Buckley

Kyle Baillie

Free Jack #96

Towering over his competition, 6’6” Canadian international Kyle Baillie joins the experienced depth of Free Jack locks. Born in Alberta and raised on Prince Edward Island, Baillie played for Three Oaks High School before beginning his professional rugby career in 2015 with the Eastern Suburbs in Sydney, Australia. 

The following year, Baillie made his way back to North America to sign with the Ohio Aviators of the now-defunct PRO Rugby competition where he scored six tries in six starts. Not long after, Baillie made his international debut in 2016, becoming a regular on Canadian tours to Spain, Brazil, Fiji, and Tonga. 

Across the pond, Baillie trialed at Saracens in the English Premiership before being put on loan to neighboring Championship side, the London Scottish. He was named to Canada’s 2019 World Cup squad and started against the Springboks. 

An MLR veteran, Baillie has been in the league since 2020 and has spent seasons in NOLA, Toronto, and DC. He has started 86% of the time in MLR playing over 2,000 minutes. Baillie joins several Canadian internationals and former Toronto teammates such as Andrew Quattrin and Cole Keith in New England. Featured in every Free Jacks match this season and starting in two, Baillie has been a stalwart on defense completing 94% of his tackles.

 Featuring Piers Von Dadelszen (center) / Photography Credit: Brendan Buckley

Piers Von Dadelszen

Free Jack #96

Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, Piers Von Dadelszen is a 6’4” lock/back-row and Canadian international who made his debut against Spain in 2022. The 24-year-old is an Oxford University engineering graduate and he was also part of their prestigious Varsity rugby team from 2020 to 2023.

Before his time studying at Oxford, Piers played for the Canadian U18s. Since his debut in 2022, Piers has represented Canada for their senior team on three occasions against Namibia and Tonga. During these test series, Piers played alongside future Free Jacks teammates Andrew Quattrin, Conor Keys, Josh Larsen, Ben LeSage, Cole Keith, Gabriel Casey, and Foster Dewitt, as well as opposing Wian Conradie and Le Roux Malan.

Signed by the Free Jacks at the end of October, Piers has taken the field in every match so far this season. He started at blindside flanker against Chicago and played the entire 80-minute shift. Furthermore, the Canadian has made a significant impression on defense, collecting two defensive turnovers and making 23 tackles this season.

 Featuring Gabriel Casey (center) / Photography Credit: Brendan Buckley

Gabriel Casey

Free Jack #98

Brought up in Ottawa, Ontario, Gabriel Casey is a capped Canadian center who the Free Jacks drafted in the first round of the 2023 MLR Draft. Coming to New England by way of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, the 24-year-old recent graduate has represented Canada since Junior levels. 

In 2023, he was called up by the senior Canadian team for their tours of Tonga and Spain, where he made his debut versus the Tongans. Against Spain, Casey started at inside center with future Free Jacks teammate Ben LeSage playing outside center. 

Casey came off the bench in the Free Jacks’ first game against Anthem Rugby Carolina. Coming on for LeSage, he made 100% of his tackles and fans look forward to seeing this shifty center tear up the pitch in future matches.

 Featuring Seta Baker (center) / Photography Credit: Burt Granofsky and Katelyn Fay

Seta Baker

Free Jack #99

A native of Auckland, New Zealand, Seta Baker is a ferocious flanker fresh off his debut season in New Zealand’s NPC for Tasman Mako. Preceding his successful 2023 season, Baker was named ‘Development Player of the Year’ in 2022 and previously featured for the Crusaders U20s in the Super Rugby U20 competition. 

As a hardworking individual on and off the pitch, Baker received a scholarship to pursue studies in Aeronautical Engineering at the Nelson Institute of Technology. 

The 23-year-old of Tongan descent made his Free Jacks debut starting at openside flanker on St. Patrick’s Day weekend against NOLA Gold. He impressed in his debut at home where he notched an industrial performance in just over 60 minutes of play. Baker had nine carries in which he beat six NOLA defenders. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Baker won an astounding three turnovers and made 11 tackles, one of which being a dominant tackle meaning that Baker made contact and drove the attacker back in one movement. 

Looking forward to New England’s first match-up with Miami, Baker expresses that “it’s just another game this weekend and consistency in my process is key. I’m looking to replicate the first game and nail my role for the team. I definitely have more confidence with the first game out of the way and am excited to rip in in front of our fans!”

The Free Jacks’ support is excited to see more big ball carries and dominant defensive collisions from Baker this season. 

 Featuring Mason Koch (center) / Photography Credit: Burt Granofsky and Oliver Gilpin

Mason Koch

Free Jack #100

Over the history of the New England Free Jacks organization, players from all over the world have worn the hooped jersey with pride. Each player receives a Free Jack number to indicate the order in which they received their first cap, a tradition that has existed in rugby for well over a century. 

Mason Koch, the 100th Free Jack made his debut against NOLA Gold at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The centennial debutant and powerful hooker is a graduate of Dartmouth College and represented the Big Green in rugby, a club rich in history and with alumni that have played a major role in the founding of the Free Jacks.

“It’s a special feeling that I’m the lucky guy to get a cool number within an awesome organization,” chuckles Koch. “It’s cool to reflect on the 99 guys who have put in the work before me to allow me to be Free Jack 100 and reflect on their contributions to the club.”

Growing up in Coralsville, Iowa, Koch was a multi-sport athlete playing football, wrestling, and baseball at Iowa City West High School. When Koch first came across the sport of rugby, he immediately grew a passion for the game and founded a rugby club at his school. Once admitted to Dartmouth in New Hampshire, Koch assisted the Big Green in winning four consecutive Ivy League Championships and captaining the team for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. 

On a cold, rainy November night in 2018, Koch, a fresh-faced university sophomore, was a standout performer, along with the likes of current Free Jacks’ Cam Davidowicz and Jackson Thiebes, among almost 200 athletes trying out at the first-ever Free Jacks combine and talent identification night. 

The Dartmouth captain and Collegiate All-American Honorable Mention was later drafted in the 2020 MLR Draft by the Austin Gilgronis. Koch spent his first two MLR seasons in Austin before getting picked up by the Chicago Hounds in their inaugural season of 2023. By the second half of the season, Koch was starting at hooker consistently for the Hounds. 

With connections to the Free Jacks and the New England rugby community, Koch joined the Jacks in Quincy in November last year. 

“I remember moving the original merch when I was at college, and it’s super humbling to now be a capped Free Jacks, let alone Free Jack 100,” recalls Koch. Upon his debut in the 56th minute against NOLA, the American hooker came on for Andrew Quattrin and made three tackles. 

 Featuring Malakai Hala-Ngatai (center) / Photography Credit: Brendan Buckley

Malakai Hala-Ngatai

Free Jack #101

Coming to New England by way of Napier, New Zealand, Malakai Hala-Ngatai is a 21-year-old loosehead prop with the footwork of an outside back. Malakai debuted for the Free Jacks on their road trip to Chicago where he came off the bench and scored a dazzling pick-and-go try in the 76th minute, stepping a Hounds defender and diving between the posts. 

 

Back home last spring in New Zealand, Malakai played for the Hurricanes U20s team in Super Rugby’s U20s competition. That summer he was selected for the All Blacks U20s side at the World Rugby U20 Championship in South Africa. After returning home from the tournament, Malakai made his NPC debut for Manawatu in 2023, playing in seven matches for former Free Jacks assistant coach Mike Rogers. 

 

Months before being acquired by the Free Jacks, Malakai played alongside former Free Jacks Beaudein Waaka, Slade McDowall, Stan Van Den Hoven, Taniela Filimone, and Terrell Peita at Manawatu, as well as current Free Jacks John Poland, Cole Keith, and Andrew Quattrin.

There will be plenty more chances to see these debutants in action at Fort Quincy this season. The Free Jacks take on the Miami Sharks at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday, April 6th at 4:30 pm in Quincy

 

BEFORE THE MATCH: Yacht Rock Festival – Come Sail Away

 One of last year’s sold-out fan festivals is back to commence that summer-time feeling we’ve all been missing for months–smooth sounds, delicious drinks, good times, and great rugby. If you like positive vibes, awesome nostalgic rock tunes, or refreshing ice-blended Frosé, Come Sail Away to the Yacht Rock Festival that’s lined, docked, and anchored for Saturday, April 6th at Veterans Memorial Stadium! And don’t forget to shine up your boat shoes, iron your finest floral shirt, and wear your best fancy dress costume, a staple for Free Jack festival madness, as we are throwing the grooviest party of the season.

 

Minute by minute, tickets are selling fast! The Yacht Rock Festival is the “can’t-miss” event of the spring in New England. Make sure to buy your tickets HERE while you can.

 

For more opportunities to engage with the Free Jacks community, stay updated on future Free Jacks matches, festivals, and announcements through the Free Jacks’ news page: www.freejacks.com/news

Written By:

Colin Elliott

Staff Writer, Intern, @ New England Free Jacks

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