BAFA National Leagues Preview | Premiership South

Will London Warriors dominate again? Who will win the annual “1st place behind the Warriors” battle? Can Bury Saints transcend their Division One form up to the Premier? Questions, questions, questions…

Premier South - Rose Wilford

After being generally satisfied finishing in third place last season with a record of 5-4-1, Bristol Aztecs felt that they could have finished the season 7-3 after losing a couple of games that they believed they could have won.

Over the offseason the Aztecs have been working hard in training, they undertook their residential camp in South Wales to help build up the strength and knowledge of players. They have also recently scrimmaged Ouse Valley Eagles which Head Coach Chris Powles said was productive and helped get a push on player registration.

Head Coach Chris Powles is now entering his 6th year in charge at Aztecs having already spent from 2008 as DC and prior to that played for the team, he has also coached at FBU Team Europe as DC. Offensive Coordinator Pete Jones is another former player; Pete has represented GB and has previously been Head Coach at Bristol Apache. Defensive Coordinator James Wilford stepped in midway through last season and is currently the Head Coach of Gloucestershire Gladiators who come off the back of a winning season, having reached the semi finals of the playoffs.

The team hopes for a playoff run this year but knows that it will be a tough season and are looking to take every game as it comes. Coach Powles has said about being in this division, with both Blitz and Warriors that it’s always tough and in previous years the Aztecs have had great battles with Farnham on top of now facing a 2 year unbeaten Bury Team.

Players to watch for the Aztecs this year are returning QB Gareth Thomas and WR Sam Hemmingsley who could pose a strong threat together against opponents. As well as LB James Armah and OL Ben Ashby.

Image courtesy of facebook.com/BristolAztecs

Bury Saints were happy with their performance last season, managing to grow the club drastically over 3 years and ending up in the Div One National Championships.

The Saints have managed to retain about 38 key contributors and have managed to add about 40 new players which are a mixture of transfers, rookies and a few youth team players coming through so have been busy in the preseason. The Saints have managed two secretive preseason events which they’re keeping tight lipped on but they do feel they’ve managed to get some good reps in for players and have been working hard since January.

Head Coach Christian Cantrill had added four coaches to his coaching staff this year bringing the total coaches to thirteen – though two have since managed to find clubs closer to home and so the Saints head into the season with a roster of eleven. New QB Coach Guy Mitchell and LB Coach Justin Gulley are both prior Saints players so should have familiarity with the systems that the Saints use. The OC and DC took a trip to NCAA Div 2 Valdosta State University in the USA in November shadowing coaching staff there for a week in order to pick up some new coaching aspects and improve on both sides of the ball. Overall with the changes they’ve made both sides of the ball should be strong this season.

Bury putting in the hard work pre-season. Image courtesy of facebook.com/BurySaintsAmericanFootballTeam

The team are well aware of how difficult this season will be with Head Coach Cantrill saying ‘We absolutely know this is the biggest challenge of our careers’. The Saints are looking to take one game at a time and learn from each game. They know that they are now amongst the best of the best in the Southern half of the UK. They’ve a lot of respect for their opponents and are looking forward to playing them this summer.

Ones to watch for the Saints this year on defence are DB Iwan Williams who has come up from the Youth team, new DB’s Chase Martin, Brian Fuller, Leonard Sanders and Braylin Anderson as well as GB LionChris Smith and GB tryouts Jack Hewett and Rob Patterson leading the LB’s. Kyle Purewal is back from uni and is expected to do big things and new DE Phil Hall and Connor Lunn have turned heads in preseason. On offense QB Andre Flores, RB’s Tre Barnes, Sam Eastwell and Connor Tooke all look to add some fire to the offense.

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After losing in the final for the fourth consecutive year against Warriors, London Blitz have said it doesn’t get any easier for them and it was a real blow at the end of last season. They believe they can be number one in the UK once more and know that this season will be particularly difficult as the competition has hotted up in recent years and know that the other teams have been working on their development.

The Blitz have had a couple of important personnel changes this year, a few talented players have been offered contracts in Europe, we’re hearing that one of last year’s starting LBs and the #1 WR have left them. Some opportunities have also opened where players have retired at the end of last season so some of the younger players should be able to step up. The Blitz believe that with the help of some of the new players as well as the younger players they should be able to accomodate for the loss of talent and look to be just as competitive this season as other seasons.

Image courtesy of facebook.com/londonblitz

The Blitz annual training camp will be taking place this weekend in anticipation for their upcoming first game and both A and B teams will be forged from this weekend. The squad has been training since January and each week has been building on levels of intensity and this weekend will top that off as players battle for starting positions. Having both teams train together for longer this year than previously has helped the more inexperienced players to really come out of their shells.

The Blitz coaching staff has Head Coach Damian Anderson, Defensive Coordinator Duncan Burford and Offensive Coordinator Stuart Miller, as well as other positional coaches they’ve also picked up an addition in the form of QB Coach Matt Rogers. Coach Rogers has over 20 years experience in the game starting out as a player on the 2000 National Champions University of Ottawa Team and then heading into coaching at Vancouver College, Notre Dame Secondary School and St Thomas More Collegiate.

The Blitz will be looking to lift the BritBowl trophy in August and know that this year they can’t afford to take their eyes off the rest of the competition in the Division like they did last year. They know that each game will be as competitive as the next and will require the teams full attention and effort.

Ones to watch for the Blitz will be MLB Matt Eva following standout performances for GB in the Autumn, second year LB Germain Pelie and GB hopeful and transfer from the Midlands, shutdown Corner Dotun Ademiju who will strengthen the defensive backfield. On offense, Chris Walker, who ran the offense well from under centre last year for the B team and could be capable of challenging an A team spot, as well as Alex Davies who will be leading some of the new players this year.

London Warriors have been keeping schtum over their preseason activities but we’re certain that they will be putting in the hard work like they always do and will be ready to continue to dominate this season.

Warriors celebrating their 4th straight Britbowl triumph. Image (C) Kyle Hemsley Photography

The team have taken a hit from last season as the entire LB core and their starting DE Niall Scott Grant have been offered and accepted European contracts. We will be looking to see who will be able to step up and take the place of these talented players. Players to watch for the Warriors are GB Lions QB Jerome Allen, who also won DC’s Player of the Year award for 2016.

Over the offseason the Farnham Knights have gone up against the Kingston Cougars, in a joint practice/scrimmage, as well as the Oxford Saints in a game they won 42-0.

The Knights biggest change since last season is the departure of Steve Rains as HC, he has since been replaced by Mark ‘Tango’ Lockwood. Coach Lockwood has been a part of the Knights since the 80’s starting out on the Offensive line and then going on to coach them. He also has some time coaching the GB Lions under his belt, with the talented collection of coaches behind him at the start of the season it will be interesting to see how well the Knights play.

Players to watch for the Knights are RB Aaron Sekwalor as well as the entire Offensive Line.

Image (C) Mark Sandom
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