Seattle Seawolves Riekert Hattingh and JP Smith


Did you know that Seattle has a professional rugby team? Professional players from around the world move to Seattle for the opportunity to play this sport that we here in Seattle are just now discovering What is it that makes Rugby so unique? Many things – but a few of the biggest differences are the total accessibility of the players – they hang out before and after the game to greet their fans, the quick games – there are no breaks other than half-time, so games are just 80 minutes, and the affordability. We are so lucky to have so many sports teams in our area, but going with a family can cost upwards of $1000. But going to a Seawolves game – even with food – can come in closer to $100. The Seattle Seawolves play at Starfire in Tukwila, and  - while something people might think it’s a dangerous sport – but there are rules and techniques that keep players safe.

There are a lot of player from South Africa on the team, but that’s because South Africa loves rugby. Captain Riekert Hattingh described his childhood and the South African love for rugby:

Every kid in South Africa wants to become a professional rugby player. Growing up, all my cousins wanted to play professionally, and we played all the time. We went to school barefoot until we were 13 years old because we if we wore shores or socks, we would get in trouble for ruining them. So we played barefoot. School started at 7am, but everyone arrive early at 6am to play rugby for an hour before school started. Then when the break during the day happened, we would go and play rugby again. Second break, we played rugby again. We would get back in class and be sweaty, grass stained and happy. It's what we lived for. We wanted to go to school so we could play rugby against each other. And it ddidn’t  matter if it was winter or summer. If it was winter, we put on three or four pairs of socks so our feet wouldn’t get cold.
Let Greet magazine introduce you to two Seawovles that lives on the island – Riekert Hattingh and JP Smith

Meet Riekert Hattingh
Riekert Hattingh is the Seawolves captain. He became a professional player in South Africa at the age of 18. Rugby in South Africa is very different than playing professional football here in America. In South Africa. you get contracted right out of high school. If you don't get a contract in high school, it's a very, very difficult road to becoming a professional player.
At the age of 16, I was playing for my province, which is the typical route most players take on the road to becoming a professional player. And then, if you play well, one of the unions offers you a contract right out of high school. I will always remember the moment I got my union call. I was in English class, and the teacher was talking, but the minute my phone rang and I saw who the call was from, I walked right out of class. And I was offered a contract to play for the Bulls.
Today, living on Mercer Island and playing for the Seawolves, I have learned to approach every situation with a cool mind. I’m a God-fearing man and have a lot of faith that things will work out in every situation. I prepare. I pay attention to what plays into my performance – eating the right way, drinking the right way – everything you do off the field will deliver on the field. I want to have a long and healthy careers and face my fitness, my performance, my off-field practice with a Tom Brady mindset.

What do you love most about your neighborhood? 
I love that I can be anywhere in 20 minutes, while while still enjoying the laid-back island lifestyle. My wife has also been involved with the Mercer Island BNI group and has met great people there, which has been enriching.
Favorite local restaurant?
When it comes to food, Mioposto's pepperoni puntura pizza is our top choice.
Tell us more about your family? 
Originally from South Africa and Ohio, my wife Kristyn and I have found a home in Seattle since 2018, where we've built our lives and met some great friends over the past 6 years.
Favorite off-season way to stay in shape/workout?
Maintaining an active lifestyle is crucial for me, whether it's hitting the WAC for a workout, spending time on the golf course, or lake Washington wake surfing.
Favorite non-profit?
Happy Bundles and REST are two of our favorite non-profit organizations. Happy Bundles is run by a fellow player and his wife, Dan and Candice Kriel.  
What does being a Seattle Seawolf mean to you? 
As a player with the Seawolves since the inaugural season, I've witnessed the organization's growth firsthand, it's something close to my heart and it’s become an integral part of our family life. 
What do you like most about playing at Starfire? 
Starfire Stadium offers an intimate setting, bringing fans close to the action. The best place to play rugby in the MLR, with the best and loudest fans.
What makes rugby an exciting game to watch? And to play? 
The fast-paced, relentless essence of rugby is what captivates me—it's an exhilarating game to play. Additionally, I appreciate the mental and strategic aspects it offers.
Favorite fan experience? 
Families can participate in pre-game activities like "run with the pack" and enjoy post-game food options.
What are new fans always surprised to learn about rugby?
The absence of timeouts, the involvement of both offense and defense for everyone, and the lack of protective gear add to the unique challenge and excitement of rugby.
Introducing JP Smith

Six years ago, JP Smith and his wife moved from South Africa to Mercer Island to join the Seattle Seawolves. Moving to a completely different country can be scary, but the Seawolves team has been very supportive, becoming best friends and feeling much more like a family. JP answered a few of our questions about Mercer Island and about rugby.
What do you like most about playing at Starfire? 
The best thing about Starfire is the fans. It doesn’t matter if it's raining or snowing, the fans are always loud. It's great having them so close to the pitch (field) too. It is certainly one of the toughest places to play as a visiting team. 
What makes rugby an exciting game to watch? And to play? 
Rugby is very exciting to watch. It's fast, hard-hitting and packed with action. There are no stoppages, besides the half-time break. and is only an 80-minute game. It's a great sport for kids because it is inclusive. There’s a position for everyone and everyone gets to play offense and defense, and every player contributes to the game no matter your position. Everyone relies on each other. It's a true team sport. 
Favorite fan experience? 
My favorite fan experience is being able to shake hands and connect with fans after the game. Kids run onto the field and can play and take photos with the players. I love the community feeling that rugby creates.
What do you love most about Mercer Island? 
My wife and I love Mercer Island. She is a first-grade teacher and appreciates how family-oriented this community is. We also love the convenience – it’s great living but so close to both Seattle and Starfire where we play.
Favorite local restaurant?
Our favorite restaurant on the island is Mio Posto.
Favorite off-season way to stay in shape/workout?
In the off season, I ease off my extreme training to give my body and mind time to reset. When the season ends, I head to Pennsylvania, and work on a regenerative merino wool farm. The work alone tends to keep me fit. Being outdoors working with farm animals is a very refreshing way to stay occupied. I normally just do some running in the mornings. Closer to the season, the running intensifies and I would add a weight-training session every day. 
Favorite non-profit?
My favorite NPO is the one we have on the farm: Sustain-Ewe. It's a non-profit created recently to help farmers raise and grow merino wool sheep sustainably and regeneratively. Not only is this good for the environment and the rejuvenation of the farmland but it also promotes locally grown wool in America.