Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Salt Lake City Gladiators

There’s a new club forming in our union west of the Continental Divide. It’s battle-hardened in victory and ready to roll, and has demonstrated its ability to travel having already made the lengthy transit to Colorado’s Capitol for a friendly versus Denver Harlequins at the end of September. By all accounts Salt Lake City Gladiators Rugby Club has exhibited all the traits of an organization that is viable: they’ve the numbers, the infrastructure, SLC players have been CIPP-ed by USA Rugby, and they display the will to succeed in Men’s Division-2; just now, they’re waiting on official union sanctioning and scheduling.
Denver Harlequins coach David Lausa is supportive of the Gladiators effort after their meeting in September: “The experience we had hosting the SLC Gladiators was a very positive one. We played a hard match that was contested to the final whistle.” As to the post-match aspect Lausa informs, “(The Gladiators) were sportsmen and gentlemen throughout the match and our players enjoyed a collegial goodwill despite a fierce match. After the game we had a great social gathering with food and singing. They are begging us to come over and play a social match in their town and have offered to meet us in GJ (Grand Junction, CO) to make the possibility more likely. We are definitely scheduling that match. I recommend they be admitted to the league based on our recent experience.”
Fuatogi and family
Lofi Fuatogi is the Gladiator’s head coach and prime motivator. The Fort Hood, Texas native slots in at flyhalf as well for the XV that is quietly making inroads into our union, though the Gladiators have yet to obtain recognition by and approval of their hoped-for entry into the league.
Fuatogi began his rugby as a ten year old on the playground where, “my friends and I would kick the ball around during lunch break at school.” From there he went on to play for a number of teams including Hawaii Islanders and Parramatta Two Blues RFC (Sydney, AUS). Mr. Fuatogi also earned national placement for Samoa on its U17, U19 and U21 sides as well as Samoa A, qualifying for Manu Samoa through relations. The energetic three-quarterline player also features at first five-eighths and fullback.
Gladiators hold mandatory training sessions Tuesdays and Thursdays in addition to optional Wednesday practice. Thus far the recruiting program has consisted of contacts from SLC Gladiators Facebook and word of mouth. The club’s inaugural match was a victory over Denver Harlequins, 24-17, at the Quins home ground at Cook Park, Denver. Salt Lake is looking for matches to fill out its fall and spring 2016 schedule and can be contacted via email or on the Facebook page.
“One of our goals moving forward is to establish rugby relations with one or more of the youth programs in the Salt Lake area,” which would be in the form of both skills and coaching clinics Fuatogi reports, as the Gladiators well understand an emergent academy structure is a crucial ingredient for the success and longevity of rugby organizations in the 21st century.
The versatile Fuatogi, who moved to Utah in 2012, is also a certified referee and has officiated summertime matches in the Beehive State. He feels, “The referee is critically important and plays a major role in any rugby match; you have to know the rules of the game to officiate and you also must maintain your fitness level and take control of matches from the first whistle.”  Tasi Toala is at the top of the chart as a Utah field magistrate and Fuatogi reports, “he (Toala) comes in now and then to help the players better understand the rules and how he sees them implemented during the game. Toala also updates us with any rule changes.”
SLC Gladiators have a number of players on the club’s ascendancy chart Fuatogi reckons, “have the potential to make it to the next level given the opportunity, with dedication and hard work: wing Felise Enoka, who also plays in the centers, is a strong ball carrier with wheels to burn; Junior Feaunati is a utility back who can be slotted in at any position… very hungry to learn every position and a very disciplined kid; Maka Palu is a gifted flyhalf… he reads the game well and is composed under pressure… Maka has a good kicking game and dictates the action very well; Paulo Anani is an aggressive blind side flanker, he’s very strong in his upper body and has speed as well to get to the breakdowns; Andrew Pahulu is a solid #8… he will give you everything you ask for at his position and always lead by example to name a few.” Fuatogi adds: “There’s a lot of players here in Utah  to mention; hopefully their hard work and dedication will pay off, and (they will) become even better rugby players in the future.”  
The club’s mission statement is direct yet elegantly expressed: “To provide a fun, safe, enjoyable environment that encourages all participants to reach their full potential no matter what their aspirations may be… our success will be measured by the pride our members take in the club and the role models we produce within our community, we champion attitude over ability and we believe any player can be great.”

The earnest and likable Gladiators chief is well aware that behavior contrary to the spirit of rugby has occurred in the past and he is determined that will not be a part of Salt Lake City’s style: “… it all comes down to leadership, (we) address and emphasize the important of discipline on and off the field… as leaders and role models, we need to lead by example. As a coach, I make certain players are mentally and physically prepared for the game and that they conduct themselves in a manner true to the spirit of rugby.”
With the Gladiators road victory and formative success, the team has shown that they are both willing to travel and that they can be competitive on that road. It is hoped that with the organization’s commitment to our game that they can obtain a provisional appointment to the union that will provide them with a match schedule and regional GRU (Geographic Rugby Union) sanction. “Salt Lake City Gladiators will do whatever it takes to help out the young players get recognized for their talent and strengthen rugby in the United States,”.
Salt Lake City Gladiators rugby Club, though in its infancy just now, counts a number of seasoned veterans on its roster whom Fuatogi can rely on for instructional assistance as well as inslotting as replacements: “Guys like Mau Sione, Toetu Tunuufi and Sa Palepoi help coach the boys… they are all great rugby players and are well-respected by the players. If we have injuries or not enough players, they always come out of retirement and help the team any way possible.” Furthermore, Coach Fuatogi acknowledges the work of “Joe Roberts, Eugene Tukumoeatu and Moresby Tauiautusa with the admin side of the club,” and states those men’s contributions are invaluable as they, “help out finding sponsors and organize fundraising so that the players can be supported on the road games. Lastly, everyone affiliated with Salt Lake city Gladiators has contributed in many different ways so that the club survives and moves forward;  and I would like to thank each and every one of them for the support they have demonstrated, not forgetting family, friends and increasingly, followers of the team here in Utah and other states.”
SLC Gladiators homeground:
Southridge Park
5075 S 4000 W
Kearns, UT 84129


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