With just one week until the 2017 BAFA National Leagues season kicks off, #TeamDC starts to take a look around the league with individual conference previews. Up first on Monday and Tuesday is Division Two, with Division One and the Premier following suit on Wednesday and Thursday.
It has been a fall from grace for Gateshead Senators in the past few years since reaching the then National League Britbowl Final, losing out to the Colchester Gladiators 33-13 at the John Charles’ Stadium in 2013.
Just four seasons later they face life in Division Two on the back of a 2-8 season, those two wins forfeitures by the Clyde Valley Blackhawks, scoring just 6.75 PPG while allowing 34.75 PPG, not a good recipe for success.
However, the Senators will be a strong candidate to bounce straight back up from the potentially weak NFC 2 Central. Only one team in the conference has managed a winning record in their history, and with two entirely new sides popping their Britball cherry, it could be a fruitful year for Gateshead.
Having come off a 9-1 2016 record, and a play-off appearances in just their second year as a Britball outfit, the Leeds Bobcats will be delighted with the re-alignment this term, as they won more regular season games last year than the other six teams combined. (Northumberland and Walney won a game each.)
Last year their offence ranked #4 in scoring in the whole of Division Two, but gave up the most points of any divisional winner, something they will look to amend in a relatively weak division.
They also gave themselves a tough pre-season test with a scrimmage against the Premiership side, the Sheffield Giants, so they will be battle ready ahead of the new season. There has been talk of top players leaving the Bobcats within DC Towers, but even if that is the case they should be one of the best two sides in the conference.
Last season started out with so much promise for Northumberland Lightning, they defeated the 2015 play-off contender Aberdeen Roughnecks in the first game of the season 10-8 (yours truly with game clinching INT), but things went downhill from there and they only managed six more points all season.
However, both games against Carlisle were cancelled, meaning there may have been opportunities for more wins (for both sides for that matter.) In 2017 they’ve appointed a new HC, former Defensive Coordinator Dale Clarke. He’s brought a new ethos to the club and states recruitment has gone well this winter. He singles out LB turned RB Liam Allen one to watch on the offensive side of the ball, while DB Chris Pringle is a tackling machine in the defensive backfield.
Clarke states, however, that the club will likely be starting a lot of rookies due to a number of players leaving. The Lightning will be without QB Callum Pattison who has left the sport and TE Ross Conley who is injured. Despite this, Clarke says hopes are high in the border county. So far in 2017 they have suffered a 14-8 defeat at the hands of the Humber Warhawks, albeit half a game.
HC Dave Oakley believes that the re-alignment will be huge for the Walney Terriers, who have managed just one victory in two seasons as a full member of the National Leagues, Oakley saying he’d be disappointed in a sub .500 record.
The Walney HC signalled out the trio of QB Joe Allington, TE/WR Brad Pearce and FB Kyle Murphy to lookout for on offense, and a defensive secondary that boasts Loughbrough Uni safety Aaron Cottis, and Cornerback Jake Chaplow.
Offensively, Oakley insists that Walney must do better, averaging just 6.5 PPG, and he has put an emphasis on the run game. Walney managed one half of pre-season football, falling 15-13 to the Crewe Railroaders before weather halted play.
Carlisle Sentinels, like Northumberland, Walney and Leeds are a third-year outfit looking to kick on after a disastrous 2017. Not only did they finish 0-8, they cancelled two fixtures against the Lightning. They mustered just 6 points all year, those in a heavy defeat to Newcastle.
They will be hoping that the re-alignment will do them a huge favour, once again facing off against Walney who they beat twice in the 2015 season on their way to a three-win season. Keith Cashner is now in charge as HC after being promoted from his Offensive Coordinator role.
They were scheduled to play the returning Clyde Valley Blackhawks in a pre-season friendly, but that was cancelled due to poor weather, meaning the Sentinels head into the season without a meaningful game or scrimmage behind them.
Club Secretary Adam Horrobin says Morecambe Bay Storm are coming into the league with ‘grounded expectations,’ but must be pleased with the conference they have been assigned to in 2017. The Storm played three games last season, two against division rivals Walney, losing both in shutouts. They did, however, manage to beat associate team Burnley Tornados in a 37-34 shootout.
On offence they are led by QB Chris Mayne, who previously played for Gateshead, but it’s rookie RB Danny McLennan who produced the majority of the points during their associate year. On defence MLB Rob Bainbridge has experience with the Manchester Titans, with Horrobin pointing out rookie defensive linemen Tom Smith and Rian Eaton as potential breakout stars.
In pre-season they took on the Lancashire Bombers University side, recording a 25-13 victory that will no doubt bolster confidence as they head into their first BAFANL campaign.
The Knottingley Raiders are the other new team entering the 2017 season, but they will be battle hardened having played eight games in their associate season. They began with a 50-22 win over the Colburn Blackcats before losing out 46-40 to the Leeds Bobcats before last year’s 9-1 season.
They also had a victory against the Kings Lynn Patriots a 38-11 win, and had a game against Northumberland called in the first quarter due to an injury to a Lightning player and medical cover deemed unsuitable to continue.
The Raiders then took part in the Northern Associate American Football League competing against Burnley Tornados, Colburn Blackcats and the DC Presidents. In that campaign the Raiders defeated the Presidents 39-32, the Blackcats 56-0, and the Tornados 57-12 and 12-11 showing a potentially high-powered offence against their associate rivals.
In the end, Knottingley were the only team to earn a place in the Senior Leagues in 2017, but come off the back of six associate wins and just one defeat, averaging 41.7 PPG, they could be one to watch.