The long wait for senior football is over, and the shake up sees the NFC 1 North become an intriguing and, hopefully, highly competitive division. So let’s take a closer look at the teams that will be duking it out to be crowned Kings of the (NFC 1) North.
First up, the new boys – the Newcastle Vikings. A 9-1 record in the NFC2 North in 2016 saw the Vikings head to the playoffs, and ultimately the Bowl game. Unfortunately, for them at least, they were shut out, but it was still an excellent season and now they get to test their mettle against a better class of opponent in the tier above.
Currently without a Head Coach (previous HC Matt Long is ready to step in if required), the Vikings have retained the bulk of the players that put up 355 points and conceded just 46 in their last campaign. The only notable loss is that of Ben Lee Harris, who has moved due to work commitments.
More depth on the offensive line, and the retention of quarterback Nick Whitehead are key moves for the team.
We would take 5-5 now if it were offered. We are under no illusion that it is a big step from Division Two to Division One. – Mick Tyler, Newcastle Vikings General Manager
Meanwhile, a little further up the road (160 miles or so up the road), the West Coast Trojans are making steps to improve their prospects in a division where they finished with a 4-6 record last season.
Last campaign saw a small West Coast team take the field, something HC Gary McNey has been quick to tackle. The club took just four weeks off at the end of 2016 and used the time to run extensive rookie camps, picking up 20 players to bolster the squad. Some of these rookies have impressed enough to take starting places.
With impressive linebacker Tam Chapman now leading a defence that includes much publicized Polish rookie defensive tackle Dawid Dlugajzyk and returning Team MVP Connor Nicolson, West Coast will be hoping to shore up a unit that shipped 248 points last term.
And that will be an interesting point when they line up against last year’s MFC 1 runners-up, the Doncaster Mustangs. A 7-3 showing saw them push the Sandwell Steelers close but coming out with a negative points for : points conceded ratio will rarely win a conference.
The main talking point from the Mustangs this off-season is their recent split with the academy, meaning yet another team in British football without a constant recruitment pathway. However, that’s a discussion for another article and another author.
The Mustangs have always been a team able to put up points, and they still retain some experience from their Premiership years. It’ll be interesting to see how they develop this year under the eye of Paul Weston.
And the move of conference sees the Mustangs meet with an old county rival once again, the Yorkshire Rams. The Rams fell to the Bury Saints in the playoffs last year but, after a couple of turbulent seasons, the team seem to have steadied the ship, a fact solidified with their move to the John Charles Stadium for all home games.
Head Coach Dave Pawson has done a superb job rebuilding following the team’s poor 2015 Premiership North campaign and they’ll be ready to take another step this campaign.
Close ties with the Division 1 North University champions, Leeds Beckett Carnegie, sees the Rams take on Lysander Code and Tyler Broad to their playing ranks to line up alongside Alexander Saunders, Charlie Gough and long term menace to offensive lines everywhere, Adam Cowley. The most important “addition” to the defensive unit though, could be the return of safety Chris Lawton, who returns after a season on the sideline with injury.
Will the Rams head to the playoffs once again? Last but not least is my early favourites for this conference. The 2016 Double Coverage Programme of the Year, the Manchester Titans.
The work that the committee at the Titans has done over the past five or so years has been nothing short of monumental. The club has been taken from close to the brink to competing in every stipulation of the sport in the UK, from cadet all the way up to senior.
With the work behind the scenes showing on the field, players have flocked to the team this off-season, with a large contingent of UCLan Rams players moving their Adult season allegiances from the Lancashire Wolverines to Manchester, along with Offensive Coordinator Luke Carlton and Special Teams Coordinator David Stretch, who make the same move.
Newly-appointed head coach, Pete Birds will be extremely happy with a squad that performed well against the Premiership North runners-up, the Merseyside Nighthawks, this past weekend, and he’ll be eager to seeing how his returning players team up with the new recruits in competitive play.
One major loss will be the retiring of long-term number one quarterback Alan Mead, who now heads up the Titans’ flag team. Those are some large cleats to fill, and it’ll be interesting to see how the offence adapts with so many new parts, but at this early stage, it’d be hard to bet against them taking the conference.