Magpies coach Josh Syms has accepted an offseason contract with Old Glory DC, in the United States. Photo / Paul Taylor
Head coach Josh Syms is far from the only Magpie flying the coop for the United States.
Gene Symington, Caleb Makene, Lolani Faleiva, Kiana Kereru-Symes and scrum coach Francisco Deformes are all bound for NPC
offseason contracts in Major League Rugby (MLR) franchises too.
A couple of other Hawke’s Bay squad members have also signed deals, which are yet to be announced.
Syms will be head coach of Washington-based Old Glory DC, before returning to fulfil his 2023 contract with the Magpies.
How much we see of him beyond that remains to be seen, as does how many other provincial players pursue opportunities in the United States.
Historically we have seen former All Blacks such as Ma’a Nonu and Andy Ellis seeking paydays in MLR, but Syms believes that situation is changing.
“It is an opportunity for our tradesmen, our work-level NPC guys, the guys who play NPC for a second job, outside of their main employment,” Syms said.
“Those guys can then go to MLR and have two employments and both be rugby and be fully professional across the year.
“It’s a challenge for New Zealand Rugby, because of course we’re seeing some implications in the training stocks and the second-tier players for Super Rugby teams. They’re finding it pretty challenging to accumulate enough players, with a dwindling talent pool in New Zealand as it is.”
Syms, who heads to the United States with his family shortly, goes with the full support of the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union. Both parties see this as an important part of his professional development, as well as giving Magpies assistants Brock James and Sam McNicol the chance to oversee the Magpies’ preseason programme.
Syms is a geography teacher by trade and didn’t have a stellar playing career to help launch his coaching.
He took development jobs, 1st XV jobs, anything to accumulate knowledge and progress up the ranks to Magpies assistant and now head coach. Having come from that background, he’d be “hypocritical” not to do everything he could to assist James, McNicol and others.
“The thing about life is you never know where it turns or where it takes you,” said Syms.
“I left Auckland in 2013 and since then I’ve coached in South America, Invercargill, Wellington, Masterton and now Hawke’s Bay, so you just don’t know.
“I’m really committed to the Magpies for next year, which is the second year of my contract and what’ll be my seventh year with the Magpies.
“But it’s not an infinite life where you are. At some stage someone will have to give a fresh perspective to the Magpies, which is important to the players and the province.
“Look, I’m well aware that I’ve got to grow those next guys and, as a coach-development person and obviously a Hawke’s Bay person now, I’m really keen to see that come from within Hawke’s Bay and see those coaches grow internally.
“While I’ve got the opportunity to do it, I really want to grow those next guys so that they’re ready when it’s time for me to move on.”
With the United States to host the Rugby World Cup in 2031, MLR appears destined to grow. Syms said the hope was for it to eventually achieve the stature of Major League Soccer, which has a strong following but sits a rung or two below the NBA and NFL.
Old Glory DC are about to embark on their sixth MLR season, where Syms will inherit a squad made up of South Americans, North Americans, Europeans and New Zealanders such as former Magpie Danny Tusitala.