Brad Tucker’s Storybook Season
Winning Major League Rugby’s first-ever Player of the Year award involves a tremendous amount of hard work. It means consistently doing things that don’t show up on the stat sheet strictly for the benefit of the team.
That’s exactly what Brad Tucker did over the course of the Seattle Seawolves 2019 campaign that ultimately ended with them successfully defending their title. In his first year, Tucker did a little bit of everything to help the Seawolves get back to the top of the mountain.
“Obviously it’s a pretty big honor,” Tucker said of winning the award. “There are some good players in the competition, and I think, personally, it’s a credit to how well our team played and allowed me to do my thing and get stuck in. That’s how it happened.”
One of the things that separates Tucker from the crowd is the fact that he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. That trait is not something that is overlooked by his teammates. When he straps up his boots, it’s time to go to work.
“He just does all of what I call the ‘Garbage Man’ jobs,” Seawolves captain Shalom Suniula said of Tucker. “He doesn’t want to get recognized for it; he just does the hard jobs around the field. He puts his head in dark places. We’ve got many other guys on our team that do that week in and week out, I just think that, on top of other assets and facets of his game, I think that’s how he got his award.”
Being the ‘Garbage Man’ can be a thankless job. While nothing is guaranteed, Tucker knows that if he puts in the work, good things are bound to happen.
“Just work rate,” Tucker said of what he believes to be the best aspect of his game after a long pause. “There are heaps of good players on our team and I think it doesn’t matter if I’m playing on the side of the scrum or in the middle row. I think if I just get through my work and get my carries and my tackles, I guess I’m doing my job for the team. If there is a chance to have a big run or do something a little more influential, I guess for me, those moments will come as long as I’m doing the work.”
In Tucker’s case, plenty of good things happened in 2019. He was Johnny-on-the-spot for the Seawolves all year long. When the Seawolves needed to show up, Tucker was there, and he has the numbers to show for it.
“From my standpoint, stats don’t lie,” Suniula said of Tucker’s MVP year. “Stats tell the story. He’s right up there with his work rate around the paddock.”
Tucker finished the 2019 season with a league-leading 289 tackles. Zack Stryffeler of the NOLA Gold, the man who finished second in the MLR in tackles, totaled 214 on the season. In addition to the work he did on defense, he also carried the ball 188 times, which ranked second in the MLR behind only his teammate Riekert Hattingh, for 1,072.9 meters and seven tries.
His ability to do a bit of everything is one of the reasons that Suniula recruited his old friend over to Seattle from New Zealand ahead of the 2019 season.
“Brad and I kind of go back before MLR,” Suniula explained. “I knew what he brought to the table and what he could offer to the team. I played Hong Kong 10s with him with the Penguins. His ability to adapt is something that is real special about him. Especially on attack. Defensively, he’s just sound. Whatever style of game we are looking to play, he’s able to make those adjustments. He’s just real durable.
“I knew that if he didn’t land a Super contract, then he would be someone we could benefit from coming to America.”
The Seawolves benefited from his presence all year long. Not only did he help the Seawolves win matches with his play and ability to adapt, but Seattle also greatly benefited from the knowledge of the game that he brought to the table as well.
“Brad brings a lot of energy and experience to the group, and his presence is always felt by the opposition which is a big plus for us.” Seawolves scrumhalf JP Smith said.
“His experience,” Suniula said of how Tucker helped Seattle secure back-to-back MLR Championship Shields. “The level of experience that he brought. We’ve really got strong forwards like Riekert (Hattingh), Tim Metcher, Oli (Kilifi) and it’s kind of like a little bit of a jigsaw, right? Brad definitely added some value coming into this year and we are all going to have to step it up for next year.”
When Seattle needed him the most, he was there. Win lose or draw, Tucker left his impact on all 18 matches the Seawolves played in 2019. Look no further than the Seawolves Week 13 matchup against the NOLA Gold. In a match that featured the first-place Gold coming into Seattle to take on a second place Seawolves team, Tucker made all 26 tackles he attempted while also carrying the ball nine times for 60 meters to help the Seawolves pick up a crucial 25-24 victory.
Tucker followed up that performance against the Gold with another big performance in Seattle’s 29-7 road loss to the Toronto Arrows. Even in the middle of what was arguably the worst match the Seawolves played all season, Tucker brought his A-game. He finished that match with a whopping 28 tackles and 68 meters gained on 11 carries.
That loss to Toronto had the potential to make or break the Seawolves’ season. With an airtight playoff race coming to a head, Seattle had a week off to get their heads back on straight. That set up two huge matches with eventual semi-finalist Rugby United New York and playoff hopefuls in the Glendale Raptors.
“I think for us as a team, the Glendale game at Glendale,” Tucker said of the moment when everything clicked. “We had just lost to Toronto, and that was probably our worst loss of the year. We had to do a bit of soul searching after that and I think we came together really well. It wasn’t a polished performance, but it was a performance where I think if we had slipped that game up I think anything could’ve happened. We turned it around and thought we were a real goer after that and gave it a real good crack.”
Seattle would go on to win both of those matches, and Tucker continued playing at the level he had been all season long. He totaled 70 meters on nine carries while making 13 tackles in their 38-31 win over RUNY on the road, and then followed up that performance with 10 carries for 54 meters and 16 tackles in a 53-36 win over the Raptors at Infinity Park. That win also served as Glendale’s first-ever home loss.
“Coming there, it’s always hard to win and it was a must-win game for us and a must-win game for them,” Tucker said. “That was really, I wouldn’t say the turning point because we were going well, but it was the point where we were like, ‘Alright. We can do this.’”
The Seawolves saw a 27-27 draw in Week 19 but ripped off a big 38-26 win over Austin Elite Rugby in the final match of the season to lock up a semifinal match at Starfire Sports. With a shot at revenge and a chance to defend their title on the line, the Seawolves defeated the Arrows 30-17 and packed their bags for San Diego to take on the first place Legion.
During the three-game stretch that led up to the MLR Championship, Tucker totaled 55 tackles along with picking up 206 meters and two tries on 32 carries.
Tucker closed out the season with the same consistency that he displayed all year long. With their backs against the wall and the match in stoppage time, the Seawolves had one lineout to close the 23-19 deficit that they faced. They piled all but one or two players into a rolling maul and rumbled into the in-goal to stun the Legion and win their second-straight MLR Championship. At the bottom of the pile with the ball in his hands was none other than Tucker.
“Honestly, I guess it’s the moment you dream about as a kid is scoring the try to win the game,” Tucker said. “To win the championship is even more surreal. It’s that moment you dream of as a kid. It doesn’t matter how you score it. The fact that we scored with a half team drive in the last play, it was unreal.”
Between scoring the try that created the MLR’s first dynasty to picking up Player of the Year, Tucker has had a nice summer. But according to Suniula, Tucker would be just as happy if he didn’t win the award.
“To be honest, Brad is the kind of guy that wouldn’t have cared if he did or didn’t get it,” Suniula said of his teammate. “His humility, he’s such a team guy.”
Ironically, it’s that same attitude that earned him the award in the first place.
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