All four Division One conferences in action in Week Two, including the opening fixture coming out of the NFC1 North. Let’s take a look at how our correspondents see the action unfolding…
Newcastle Vikings at Yorkshire Rams
The NFC1 North gets underway with an intriguing matchup between one of British Football’s longest-running teams and one of the new boys.
The Yorkshire Rams head into the new season after a transitional period that has seen them wind up calling the John Charles Stadium their home ground. It’s an impressive venue, almost as impressive as the job the team has done recruiting and rebuilding under HC David Pawson.
The defence boasts some big names including Lysander Code and Tyler Broad from the BUCS Division 1 winning Leeds Beckett Carnegie, as well as the returning Chris Lawton who spent 2016 on the sidelines through injury. They’ll line-up alongside Adam Cowley and look to menace the Vikings throughout the day.
On the flip side, we have the new boy Vikings, who come into their Division 1 debut without a Head Coach. Previous HC Matt Long has been stepping in and doing an excellent job, retaining the majority of the players that gained the team a promotion in the last campaign.
This game could easily swing on how the Vikings get the ball rolling. Can QB Nick Whitehead put points up on this Rams defence? I’ll give this one to the experience of the home team.
Coventry Jets at Sandwell Steelers
Jets managed just 184 yards in their season opening defeat to Nottingham. Hoping for a chance to wipe the slate clean of their 2016 showing, Coventry’s ground game was restricted to 58 total yards, with QB Dom Olney notching up 126 through the air. However, of those 126 yards – coming on just seven completions – 96 came on the two scores for Coventry, including an 70-yard touchdown for Raj Dhillon. The defense put in a decent showing in DC Colin Branagh’s first game, restricting the Caesars to similar ground yards (64). Overall though, it was a poor start to life in the second tier for the Jets as they still look to gel as a team.
Sandwell meanwhile, have been ticking over quietly since defeat to Bury Saints in last seasons playoffs. As we noted in our conference preview, the Steelers have lost a few starters to retirement (notably QB Jonny Glover, DB Greg Freeman, OL Carl Lewis) and transfers to other sides. However, they’ve gained youthful experience in return. An exciting offensive trio of QB Callum Davidson, RB James Jones-Cross and WR Josh Lawrence will bring a spark to OC David Butler’s unit. Having personally witnessed all 3 players at either Youth or Junior level, I’m genuinely excited to see them take their talent to the next level when they make their Adult contact debut. On the other side of the ball, #TeamDC‘s own Gareth Thomas has taken his ball-hawking talent across the second city from Birmingham Bulls, and is joined by University of Birmingham Lions veteran Paul Zinkus in the secondary. An already tough unit – including front 7 veterans Ant Green (LB), Jake Hill (LB), Sam Rafferty (DL) and Adam Bates (DL) – Sandwell will look to go one better than their 2016 9-1 regular season record, starting on Sunday.
Whilst I do believe it’ll come together for the Jets over the course of the season, it’s still too early for them to take down a Steelers side that has grown year on year. For the same reason as last week’s Caesars at Jets game, I’m leaning toward the togetherness of Sandwell to overcome Coventry.
Sussex Thunder at Oxford Saints
The SFC2 champions come in to their first competitive game of 2017 after a disappointing preseason; two big losses to Farnham and Leicester will not have been the way they’ll have wanted to kick off this campaign. It turns out no matter how good your uniform looks you still have to make it count on the field and after the departure of their import QB they’ve struggled to move the ball in the air (12 yards off 12 attempts when they played Leicester). This will be an opportunity for the Saints to show that those results were the product of rotating in rookies and depth players, and that they are ready to continue their #Marching in Division One.
Sussex Thunder narrowly missed out on post season football last year and held the high flying Bury Saints to a tie. They seemed to struggle away from home in 2016, losing to the Thrashers and being shut out by the Exiles when on the road. They’ll need to bring a competitive squad up to the city of dreaming spires if they want to set the right tone for the season.
The last time these two teams met was in the 2015 quarter finals. The Oxford Saints travelled down to sunny Brighton and were on the receiving end of a 50-13 hammering. With the Thunder coming up to Tilsey Park this Sunday we’re sure that the result will be a lot closer; however, we still see the Sussex Thunder having the edge they need to go back home with the win and end the Saints winning streak.
Cambridgeshire Cats at London Olympians
The Olympians have managed to pull together a pretty nasty looking offensive line. If it wasn’t for some unfortunate laundry – several penalties including 3 TDs called back – the Olympians counted in excess of 300 yards rushing. It’s not just one stud either, there’s a whole stable of workhorses, each worthy of being the starter; in many teams would be THE guy. That scares me a little, especially when paired with the 15/21 with 2TD from Veteran QB Aaron Griffiths.
The Cats on the other hand, didn’t get much going on offense. As seems to be the case for the Cats of recent years, it takes them a few weeks to get into the swing of things. Unfortunately, Exiles very much WERE in the swing of things. Cambridgeshire were unable to put a halt to the tenacious running of Exile Dan Exell until the second half where they held them to only 7 points, whilst putting up 7 themselves. Unfortunately, it was over all too quickly and the Exiles held strong in the fourth.
Olympians will be taking on the Cats with second string QB Callum Mair under centre this week. Honestly, even without Griffiths under centre, it wont matter; the Olympians run game was on FIRE last week. Whilst the Cats didn’t have the same fortune, their defence was just running: after Dan Exell.
Can Tom Carr rally the Cats defence to step up? Will the Olympians secondary cause more turnovers? Will the Cats cause an upset? No. Yes. No.