All four conferences are in action across Division One, with playoff spots and relegation still up for grabs all over the shop!
West Coast Trojans vs Doncaster Mustangs
So the Mustangs get another crack at the Trojans after failing to make the trip to Scotland earlier in the year thanks to an admin error meaning they’d have no coach to make the journey home.
The two teams prop up the bottom of the conference, and Doncaster and West Coast have the 2nd and 3rd worst points against record in the entire division one respectively. The only team to ship more points is the Coventry Jets, who have in fairness scored more points than both of these sides.
The Trojans have put up just 18 points of their own all year, the worst tally by far in all of the National Leagues.
Having been smashed 50-0 by the Mustangs in Yorkshire just a couple of weeks ago, look for the small squad to be handed another shellacking to finish off their season. Doncaster Mustangs to win.
Newcastle Vikings vs Yorkshire Rams
Well this is an interesting game. Both have a victory over the other this year, which means the 5-4 Newcastle Vikings will head to the postseason at the expense of their 6-3 rivals with a win. That’d be damn impressive in their first campaign in division one.
It won’t be easy. The Vikings beat the Rams 3-0 in their opening game in a defensive battle but the Yorkshire team have improved massively since then, only losing to Manchester (x2), who they also beat in a shock win a few weeks ago.
With the second Vikings-Rams game being another nailbiter, ending 24-19 in favour of Yorkshire, it lays the foundation for a hell of a final game of the season for these two. Yorkshire Rams to win
Sandwell Steelers vs Nottingham Caesars
And so, it all comes down to this. The final playoff spot out of the NFC1 South is up for grabs thanks to the Caesars’ fall from grace following back-to-back defeats against Leicester, coupled with Sandwell bouncing back from a mid-season blip.
The formula is simple. Nottingham win, they’re in. Sandwell however need to do more than just win. The Caesars currently own the head to head following the 33-29 win earlier in the season. With Sandwell having conceded 158 to Nottingham’s 148 so far, the Steelers MUST win by five or more points in order to own the head to head tiebreaker and leapfrog Nottingham in to second place.
Nottingham were shutout for the first time this season in the 35-0 defeat to Leicester last week, whilst Sandwell’s defense – spearheaded by defensive line anchored by Adam Bates, Sam Rafferty and Kris Wedderburn – have conceded just 15 points in three games since the away hammering at the Falcons.
Having QB Callum Davidson fit again (stepping in for a few drives in the last outing) is crucial for the Steelers, and it was no surprise that their offense took a hit when he was out. Sandwell to sneak in to the post-season with a 7-point victory.
Leicester Falcons vs Birmingham Bulls
A meaningless game for the Falcons, who have already been crowned conference champions and await the #2 seed coming out of the NFC1 North in the playoffs. But the game has huge implications for their opponents, the Bulls.
With the 20-6 defeat to Coventry last week, the Bulls are bottom of the conference with the Jets owning the head to head tiebreaker. For the Bulls to avoid the drop down to Division Two, they need to tie with, or beat, the Falcons on the road.
It won’t be an easy task, as both games between the sides this season have resulted in relatively comfortable wins for Leicester. However, the Bulls can take heart from the fact that for the first three quarters in each game, they were within touching distance of the Falcons, succumbing in the final quarter as the lower roster size began to take it’s toll.
Whilst I would like nothing more than a positive Bulls result to keep them in the second tier, it’s impossible to look past the Falcons – even without the suspended Jack Verling – who will want to keep up the momentum heading in to the post-season.
South Wales Warriors vs Solent Thrashers
So here it is, the last game of the regular season. Solent may have had a shaky start to the year but they’ve managed to pull it back and will be able to finish the season with a winning record if they can get the win on Sunday. The Thrashers moved the ball effectively last weekend, with the weather rather than their opponent shutting down the passing game, and should do as well again when they come up against an arguably weaker team this Sunday. Having a coaching staff who are willing to make scheme changes in order to neutralise the opposition has put Solent within touching distance of the playoffs. A win or tie here will seal their place in the post season, but a loss could put them at the mercy of PAPG, so they can’t come in to this game with anything less than their A game.
It’s been a challenging season for the Warriors. With half their games within a single score and games which have come down to the final play, their tenacity is not in question. This will be their last chance not to go 0-10 and give the players something tangible to be positive about in the offseason. Although they’ve faced the Thrashers twice this season already, this will be the first time that they welcome them to Llanharan and a hostile welcome it will be. The Warriors defense was formidable in their last outing, and if they can cut out the mistakes they’ll at least give their offense the chance for a happy ending to this underdog story.
However much I want the South Wales Warriors to win this one, their lack of offensive production means I’ll be predicting the Thrashers to carry home another victory.
Oxford Saints vs Ouse Valley Eagles
Last weekend, a blocked field goal returned to the house put OVE in the driving seat as they went in to the half. Unfortunately, those were the only points scored by the Eagles, as the offense was unable to extend the lead. Although they managed to hold strong for a while, the defense finally succumbed to the pressure in the fourth quarter and the Eagles were removed from playoff contention. The last time they faced the Saints, balanced offensive playcalling kept the Oxford defense guessing and the Eagles “bend-don’t-break” defense was more than a match for the rumbling Oxford backs. The season comes down to this final game and there is no reason for the Eagles to give it anything less than their all.
As this season draws to a close, the Saints should be happy with their efforts on a return to Division One balling. They’ve not been able to replicate the success they enjoyed last year as they have struggled to find a solid replacement under centre, but the tradition of “ground and pound” has allowed them to remain competitive in many games. As they host the Eagles once more in front of their fans at Tilsey Park, the coaching staff can ill afford to once again draw flags and make the players jobs even harder. The Saints may not be mathematically out of the running for a playoff spot, requiring other results to go their way, but all that becomes moot if they allow themselves to be beaten.
Some players in both camps might feel that this game is meaningless, with both teams expected to finish mid table and without playoffs or relegation to worry about, but if anything that makes this matchup one of pride. Neither team should be happy to sit adjacent to the soon to be relegated South Wales Warriors and players can look to this game to bolster their Hudl highlight reel.
It’s difficult to pick between these two teams but when the final whistle blows, and the season is wrapped up, we’ll find the Eagles perched atop the stumbling Saints.
Kent Exiles vs Cambridgeshire Cats
In a game that has no outcome on the Exiles post season, I would expect to see some starters rested in order to keep the fit for their tough matchup with the dominant Sussex Thunder in the first round of playoffs. After successfully beating conference champions, the London Olympians, they probably felt like they had lost that game needing two more scores to secure the conference for themselves.
The Cats are in a four game losing streak as they see their early season form spiralling out of control. They need to beat the Exiles to be safe from the drop. Lose, and they could find themselves in a three way tie for the bottom spot! Averaging eight points per game in their past four outings, it is clear that something needs to change.
I’m calling Cats for this one, probably to their despair. They have more to play for and above anything; they never do what I predict and I’m really keen to see how this three way palaver is dealt with by BAFA.
London Hornets vs Colchester Gladiators
The Hornets have had a mixed bag this season. A truly dominant defense making plays, scoring points, setting up field position. You could ask for much more. A special teams unit that has scored multiple touchdowns: including a walk off Field Goal return! All of it irrelevant though as the offense just couldn’t get anything done, not only failing to score, but giving up a few pick-6’s along the way.
The Gladiators season hasn’t faired much better scoring one less point than the Hornets, averaging 11 points a game. The difference is that the Gladiators have found themselves a little bit of form; winning three of the last four matchups. The most recent of which was last weeks 17-6 win against the Hornets. With a little bit of luck and momentum going into this one, Colchester will certainly feel they can take this one!
With both sides needing a win to stay up, there are huge implications of slipping on Sunday. Expect a slow start to the game that has the potential to be a cracker! Hornets to edge the Gladiators in this one.