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Sean Walker, KSL.com
The Utah Warriors unveiled their new uniforms during the team's official kickoff of its second season in Major League Rugby, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 in South Jordan.

Tonata Lauti didn’t know what to expect in his first season as a professional athlete.

The Warriors’ wing found his footing quickly as he went from trying out on a whim to leading Major League Rugby in tries. The former Highland football player returns for the team’s second season, and even before the first whistle blows, expectations are higher, thanks in part to rigorous offseason strength and conditioning.

“I don’t hate it,” he said at a press conference kicking off the 2019 Warriors rugby season. “I love it. Matt Bird put us through a lot. Compared to last year, conditioning-wise, we’re light years ahead.”

Improved fitness is just one aspect that head coach Alf Daniels focused on as he tried to assess how the Warriors could improve on an inaugural season that saw them make the playoffs despite an injury-ravaged roster.

" You’re going to see a different athlete wearing the Warriors jersey this season. "
Utah Warriors head coach Alf Daniels

“You’re going to see a different athlete wearing the Warriors jersey this season because of the work Matt’s put in this year,” Daniels said, acknowledging that fitness was among the top issues they felt they needed to address this season.

“They’ve done the hard yards behind the scenes,” Daniels said. “They’re out there running, lifting weights, doing the work to make it easy for them to perform on the field.”

The team recruited new talent, new coaches, a new team manager and even modeled new uniforms.

Daniels promised an even more competitive squad in a league that will feature two new teams — New York and Ontario — bringing the league’s competing members to nine.

“Everything is coming together,” Lauti said of all the new pieces in place for the 2019 season. “We have a long way to go, but it’s starting to click. … I never thought that I would be playing pro rugby. For me here, this is a really big opportunity. I knew it would come one day here. I thought maybe my kids will play pro rugby. … The growth that we’ve seen is really exciting.”

Among the new players is Josh Reeves a native of New Zealand who has been playing rugby for Brazil’s national team, and Tim O’Malley, also a native of New Zealand.

Sean Walker, KSL.com
Utah Warriors general manager Kimball Kjar addresses the crowd at Embassy Suites by Hilton ahead of the Warriors' second season in Major League Rugby, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 in South Jordan.

“I’ve always wanted to play rugby at the highest level possible,” Reeves said. “I watched a lot of rugby in the last year, and I’ve been impressed with the standard. When the opportunity came up, I couldn’t say no.”

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The Warriors have players from 10 countries, and they have plenty of players with local ties, including four former University of Utah athletes, four former BYU athletes and one former UVU athlete.

Sean Walker, KSL.com
Utah Warriors coach Alf Daniels addresses the crowd at Embassy Suites by Hilton ahead of the Warriors' second season in Major League Rugby, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 in South Jordan.

The team led the league in fan attendance and boasts the support of the largest youth rugby league in the country. Daniels promised fans will see a better skilled, more committed team when take the field for their first game on Feb. 1.

“Utah has the best community support of any team in the MLR,” he said.

The Warriors' home opener is Feb. 23, and while season tickets are still on sale, single-game tickets go on sale this week at www.warriorsrugby.com.