Experienced backline utility Luke Burton (above) will step into the playmaker role at flyhalf when the LA Giltinis start their Championship defence in Houston on Saturday night.
The Australian finds himself wearing the No.10 jersey with top flyhalf Matt Giteau dealing with a calf strain and USA Eagle Luke Carty out for four months with a torn pectoral muscle.
The Giltinis have harnessed hard-edged Championship-winning experience and quality recruits in naming their 23-man squad to tackle the Houston SaberCats at AVEVA Stadium.
Fourteen players are backing up from the memorable Championship final triumph over Rugby ATL in August last year including inspirational lock and skipper Dave Dennis (below).
Into the starting side for the first time come classy Canadian Test duo Djustice Sears-Duru (prop) and Ben LeSage (outside centre).
Hard-running USA Eagles No.8 Hanco Germishuys and smooth-moving Kiwi fullback Jordan Trainor are the other new recruits in the starting line-up.
New Head Coach Stephen Hoiles is confident Burton, 27, has the poise and experience to take over the chief playmaker duties.
“’Burto’ has played the majority of his career at No.10. He played that position for Biarritz in France and very well for San Diego at flyhalf in 2020 before he came to the Giltinis,” Hoiles said.
“It’s the position he feels most at home in even though his versatility meant he was great value for us as a centre and fullback last year.
“He’s a calm, collected guy and a frontline MLR player. He’s earned the confidence of the squad around him.”Burton will have skilful scrumhalf Harrison Goddard (pictured) inside him and Billy Meakes, the man voted the MLR's Best Back in 2021, will play at centre outside him.
Playing in cold seven degree temperatures on Saturday night, after the light snow forecast in Houston on Friday night, will quickly underline this as a new season with new goals and new challenges.
“We absolutely respect what happened last year but we have constantly been referring to the fact we have to start again and earn every step with a new squad this year,” Hoiles said.
LeSage has 24 Tests for Canada behind him. He brings new leadership and knowledge to the team as well as proven line-breaking.
In the front-row, stalwart Sears-Duru brings the experience of 60 Tests to his scrummaging while reserve prop Les Leuluaialii-Makin has plenty of Super Rugby knowledge from playing in Australia.
LA GILTINIS (v Houston SaberCats)
1 Djustice Sears-Duru, 2 Sean McNulty, 3 Charlie Abel, 4 Dave Dennis (capt), 5 Nathan Den Hoedt, 6 Angus Cottrell, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Hanco Germishuys, 9 Harrison Goddard, 10, Luke Burton, 11 Ryan James, 12 Billy Meakes, 13 Ben LeSage, 14 John Ryberg, 15 Jordan Trainor
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 18 Marco Fepulea’i, 19 Luke White, 20 Corey Thomas, 21 Tas Smith, 22 Will Chambers, 23 Cristian Rodriguez
The Giltinis will play their first match of the new MLR season against Houston SaberCats in Houston on Saturday, February 5.
The match will be broadcast live at 5pm PST on Bally Sports SoCal and Bally Sports West in Los Angeles. The match can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.