By Mark Janzen
According to Toronto Arrows captain Dan Moor, teammate Sam Malcolm indeed has an athletic flaw.
“His frisbee game could use some improvement.”
A recent trip to a Northern Ontario cottage during the Arrows late-season bye week revealed a rare foible within the finely-tuned athletic construct of the 5-foot-9 flyhalf from Whanganui, New Zealand.
“We were playing a game where he was throwing a frisbee and that was first time (Sam) didn’t look completely comfortable in an athletic situation,” Moor says.
It was only notable because of its rarity.
Malcolm’s Major League Rugby opponents can attest to this. Since joining the Arrows last December via the Manawatu Turbos (Mitre 10), the Kiwi stud has repeatedly displayed his all-encompassing athleticism. He has a golden boot, a directorial IQ as good as any in the MLR, a sublime catch and pass ability, and a tackling talent that entirely disregards his own size in the name of taking down the biggest trees.
“He’s fearless,” says Chris Silverthorn, Toronto’s director of rugby. “He never backs away and never gives up an inch.”
It’s true. Watch his highlight reel. His form is instructional and his timing is impeccable.
“I pride myself in my defence,” Malcolm admits. “I’m not the biggest guy, so I have to be smart in how I get the players down.”
Not to belabour the point, but it might also be wise to find your way to the final play of Toronto’s mid-May home victory over Utah. Already beyond 80 minutes, Malcolm put the Warriors Gannon Moore on roller skates, driving the Utah centre backwards into his own in-goal area to finish the match with an exclamation point.
“He has the heart of a lion beating inside him,” Moor says.
Since getting off the plane in Toronto wearing shorts on a rather wintry day, Malcolm has injected a certain skill and will into the Arrows flyhalf position – transplanting his innate ‘New Zealandness’ to Canada.
“He brings leadership and calmness and he’s a real student of the game,” Silverthorn adds. “He understands the game plan and he really controls the game. He’s the on-field general we need.”
While it can be said with certainty that Malcolm, 23, never imagined a professional path that would take him through a land of snow and ice, that became his reality this year and now he is absolutely living his childhood dream.
Growing up in Whanganui, Malcolm enjoyed a pretty stereotypical Kiwi upbringing. His dad, Darryl, worked in agriculture as a livestock agent; his mom, Pam, was a financial planner, and his sporting heroes were the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Sounds about right.
With that came Malcolm’s rugby-playing aspirations. After graduating from Wanganui High School, he moved to Palmerston North, where he studied agriculture and business (he completed his degree last year), and played rugby at Massey University. Soon enough, his experience – which included time with the Manawatu Under 19s – helped launch Malcolm into a prestigious stratosphere, ultimately seeing him earn a trial opportunity with the New Zealand Under 20s in 2014. While he ultimately did not earn a spot in the final selection, his being within the training group, which included a trial against the Chiefs development team, proved that Malcolm belongs within the upper echelon of the rugby world.
“I was definitely disappointed to miss the final selection into the U20s, but it added to my motivation. It gave me the confidence to know that I could make rugby as a career,” Malcolm says.
A few months after his trial, Malcolm also found his way into the Hurricanes Under 20 squad, which helped him secure a spot with the Manawatu Turbos, joining the senior side in 2015. Three years later, he became a regular with the Turbos in 2018. Spending time at both flyhalf and fullback, he appeared in all 10 games while featuring as a starter seven times.
His Mitre 10 success, combined with the Arrows connection to former Rugby Canada general manager Mike Chu (now the game development manager with New Zealand Rugby) culminated in Malcolm boarding that Toronto-bound plane in shorts.
Then, less than two months after landing on Canadian soil, Malcolm proved perfection is in fact possible.
Helping the Arrows to a late-February victory over Houston, Malcolm went eight for eight from the tee, collecting 19 points and earning First XV honours in the MLR’s weekly awards. If he hadn’t already spoken up on the MLR scene, his boot did all the necessary talking.
“As a kicker, you have to treasure those moments,” he says. “You spend a lot of time and effort off the field working on improvement, and to achieve results is very rewarding personally. I was just fortunate I was striking the ball well that day.”
From there, Malcolm become a mainstay amongst MLR’s statistical leaders. He finished the regular season second in conversions – with 44, and third in total points – with 145, and third in penalty goals – with 18. He was a key reason for the Arrows late-season surge, in which Toronto finished the year on a seven-match winning streak.
Then, if there had been any doubt of his value to the Arrows, he proved his worth once again in Toronto’s regular season finale. With Toronto trailing by one point with only three minutes remaining against visiting RUNY – and the Arrows playoff aspirations hung in the balance – Malcolm took a pass off a ruck and sent a rare drop goal through the posts from 15 metres out, thus securing the winning points in a 22-20 playoff-clinching victory. It was a perfect bow on a regular season to remember.
“He is a phenomenal on-field leader,” Moor says. “He has a strategic understanding of the game and very impressive technical skills. And he makes the ‘under the radar’ plays that make the difference in the game. He probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves, because a lot of the success we’ve had is because of him – putting us in good positions to capitalize and score some tries.”
While Malcolm is set to return to Manawatu in the fall for the Mitre 10 season, that remains in the distant future. With the business end of the MLR season upon us, Malcolm has the Arrows set to take a swing at a league title in their maiden voyage. The big moments await, but his quiet confidence – brewed more than a few years ago on the North Island of New Zealand – is rich, his athleticism is smooth (blemished only by a ‘cottage life’ contest), and his humble leadership might just have Toronto on the verge of history.