There’s still a good number of weeks left in the season, but already the top contenders in each conference are emerging! There’s crucial clashes up and down the country this weekend as teams seek to keep themselves in the race to the playoffs…
NFC 2 Central
written by Stuart Dick
Halton Spartans vs Morecambe Bay Storm
It’s a rather easy prediction week in the NFC 2 Central – hoping the unfavoured sides use this as bulletin board material and make the games close (heaven knows having played for Northumberland I know how difficult it is to be in these situations) – but I foresee a similar, if not a larger, scoreline as the 1-4 Storm travels to the 4-1 Spartans.
The Spartans have played twice since the last time the Storm took the field, scoring 84 points in two fixtures against the 2-2 Furness Phantoms – who have twice handily beat Morecambe Bay this season – and the 0-5 Carlisle Sentinels. Wide receiver Ross Dryden picked up a hat-trick of receiving touchdowns – including a 20-yard endzone trip where he was left alone running a corner route with a hugely busted coverage. The QB duo of Rik Lowthion (2) and Tom Everson (3) combined for five passing scores – RB Craig Owen adding another with a scamper that included four broken tackles.
The Storm meanwhile have given up 44.2 points per game on the defensive side of the ball, only the Hastings Conquerors have given up more points in the third tier, and last time out they gave up a mammoth 77 points to the Chester Romans in a demoralising defeat. In their past two defeat the Storm have conceded 138 points – you can’t win football games that way. Hopefully they can keep the score respectable like the early matchup this year – although it was ended early due to a Storm injury.
I expect a 30+ point victory for the Spartans – time to surprise me Morecambe Bay.
Furness Phantoms vs Carlisle Sentinels
Kind of a rinse and repeat prediction, see above but replace Sentinels with Storm. Although the Furness Phantoms have struggled in their past two matchups against the Chester Romans and Halton Spartans. Although if we use a comparison of the results of these sides against the Spartans – both conceded just over 40 points, but the Phantoms did score points, so maybe it’ll be closer than I think.
Furness put big points up against the Storm before facing the divisions two play-off contenders. To be fair the Phantoms they did put the first 18 points of the season on the scoreboard against the Chester Romans and have scored points in their four contests to date and average 34 point per game – heavily skewed by the wins against Morecambe Bay. However, they should add considerably to their tally against the Sentinels.
Fair play to Carlisle making the trip to Halton with a threadbare squad – a picture on social media appeared to have as few as 15 make the trip – but the game day footage appears to show a few more than that on the day. Offensively they have really struggled – with just six points on the board, although without a match report those points could have been the result of a defensive play or special teams.
Defensively they are yet to concede a 50 burger, but all four defeats on the field have seen 38+ points conceded. Furness to win by lots.
NFC 2 South
written by John Brady
Crewe Railroaders vs Knottingley Raiders
Crewe have had a rough go of things these last two weeks, going from 2-1 to 2-3 with tough losses to the Staffordshire Surge and the Birmingham Bulls. Their defeat at Birmingham’s hands will likely be a particularly hard pill to swallow as their offence suffered their first shut-out of the season. They’ll be looking to use this game to bounce back and break even on the win/loss ratio.
Knottingley have had an even tougher go of things, with three straight losses. At this point if you play Staffordshire or Birmingham it’s pretty much expected you’ll lose (which Knottingley did when they played both teams), but another heavy loss to the Lincolnshire Bombers 2 weeks ago means they currently stand at the bottom of their division. Expect them to play hard to try and earn their first W.
Both teams are going to be hungry for the win, as both have come off the backs of heavy losses. However, Crewe have scored nearly twice Knottingley’s points on offence while only letting through 11 more on defence, with two games in hand.
On paper they look to be the stronger team, and therefore the one who will take the win, but expect a close game. Crewe Railroaders to win
SFC 2 West
written by James Ogier
South Wales Warriors vs Worcestershire Black Knights
Another game and another defensive shutout for the South Wales Warriors. Having only conceded 6 points in four games and having scored 170, Coach Geraint Roberts’ side is now at full speed after a slightly staggered start to the season.
The score of 64-0 for the Welsh squad gave the opportunity for a plethora of players to find the end zone. RB Josh Hughes got the Warrior their first touchdown of the game early on before sharing the rushing touchdowns with Daniel Abbruzzese and Adam Hilton. Most impressively during the game, WR Joshua Hurford racked up not one, not two, but three touchdowns.
Of course, it wasn’t just a stellar performance from the Warriors’ O and D. Daniel Dacey played a fantastic game: returning the Sharks’ punts for threatening field position and returning the opening kickoff in the second half for a touchdown.
The Warriors’ players seem to be avoiding complacency and are focused on the task at hand. If they are able to take down the Black Knights in this fixture, then they will only have the Torbay Trojans who will be able to stand in their way for the conference crown.
The Black Knights are currently sitting at 3-2 and while their playoff hopes are still alive, there are rhyfelwyr gwyrdd blocking the way! The last time these two met, the Black Knights were at the end of a 48-0 defeat.
One must bear in mind that this is the most experienced squad that the Black Knights have met this season. Head Coach Rich Smith understands that this will be a hard game, but they would have made the suitable adjustments with this being their second meet:
“It’s going to be a tough second game with their unrelenting D. Our aim is to play without fear and see what we can do.”
Torbay Trojans vs Cornish Sharks
The Trojans are on track to reach the playoffs for the first time in their (modern) history.
A team who would love to help disrupt Torbay’s march to the postseason are their rivals, the Cornish Sharks.
The Trojans currently boast a very large squad with Paul Potter (formerly of the Bristol Apache) and Alistair Hamer (Gloucestershire Gladiators) having recently joined their ranks.
Watching the Trojans against the Wyverns was like watching a different team to that which struggled to put up points in their opener against the Sharks back in Week Two. With the offence now under the watchful eye of Lydon Ward-Best, the Trojans are starting to have a unit to match their defence.
Chris Robson-Close was an instant upgrade to their offence, having made light work of the Wyverns and racking up the yards. QB Adam Hines shut up his critics (my previous articles) with his passing game which connected with a range of receivers for touchdowns and made him look like a completely different player from their first game. The last time the Trojans met the Cornish side, at times, their strong defensive line made light work of the Sharks’ offensive line.
Meanwhile, the Sharks’ last swim out saw a travelling squad of just 26 on the receiving end of a 64-0 loss. While we haven’t received any reports on their players, we hope that they didn’t pick up any injuries against a powerful Warriors squad. The last time the Sharks played Torbay, they only managed to get one first down, so they’ll be looking on building on that for this game. The rivalry between Torbay and Sharks can be quite fierce, so don’t expect this game to be straightforward as the Sharks know how to be tough enemies.
The last time these two teams met, the Trojans came on top fairly comfortably, but not without a load of mistakes on their part. The Trojans have made quite a few changed to personnel and their game, so I expect them to be the Pasty Bowl winners for the first time (still waiting to hear if a pasty will make an appearance this year?). Trojans to win.
Somerset Wyverns vs Jurassic Coast Raptors
The Wyverns are a rookie squad in this conference, but you wouldn’t think it watching them play. When they last took to the field against the Trojans, on a hot day in June, they were looking to win. Most teams in their first year are happy to find their feet and see how it goes, but the Wyverns wanted that W.
They didn’t come away with the results that they were after (34-16 loss), but there was much to take away. On several occasions, the Wyverns may have given up yardage on a drive, but they always became formidable when it came to stopping the Trojans in the red zone.
Speaking to Head Coach John Chambers, he explained that the Wyverns won’t only be fighting the Raptors this game, but also the heat. Hopefully, the team won’t pick up many injuries and will be ready to face the Knights for round two, next week.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, they have had a tough season. They lost their quarterback early in their first game and have had to postpone a fixture due to low player numbers. Due to the small squad, Head Coach Mark Newell has expressed that it’ll be a tough game, but as usual, shows that the Raptors won’t let the Wyverns leave without a fight:
“It’s going to be ironman football again, so it’s going to be tough, but we’ll put up a fight”.
SFC 2 South
written by Patrick McAleer
Hastings Conquerors vs Swindon Storm
This week we have the two winless sides facing off, in the 1st of back-to-back matchups between the teams. Both Hastings and Swindon will be looking to get off the mark for the season and finally taste that winning feeling again, in what could be seen as the Wooden Spoon Bowl.
Last time out Hastings had a big loss against the Cheetahs, but kudos to them for travelling with 20 players, as they were missing their starting QB, RB, centre and guard, and two of their starting WR’s.
Stand-in QB, Simon Vince, then had to leave the game due to injury, leaving Daniel Lock to step up; the Conquerors still moved the ball though, with catches from Tom Cleary. Kurt Ballard’s return to the team after nearly a year out was a great help, as he made a number of tackles and won Defensive MVP for the day.
The Conquerors may not have won the game against the Cheetahs, but they won respect across the league for finishing and fighting to the end, and in a league where we see weekly cancellations due to player safety (aka numbers) then that is all we can ask.
It’s sounding more positive for the Conquerors coming into this game week, as I caught up with HC Steve Cox, who said
“Coming off the back of a bad loss we have put some hard work into righting the ship and we are hopeful of a better performance at home. We should have a bigger squad with players returning in key positions that should help us do better.”
Swindon were also on the hands of a defeat from the Cheetahs in their last game, where they were shutout 34-0 – the second time their offence was held to no points this season. Their offence was also held to a combined 20 yards against the Cheetahs and relied on their defence to keep the score down.
They were able to get multiple interceptions against the highflying Hertfordshire team but couldn’t sop them all day. I anticipated that the Storm might be caught out on special teams against the Cheetahs, which has been a weakness of theirs all season, and that they were with the Hertfordshire return man taking a punt all the back to the house. Swindon this week aren’t facing one of the best sides in Division Two football, as they were last Sunday, and should have more success in moving the ball.
These two sides have scored a similar amount of points this season, with the Storm edging it by 2, but having played a game more. However, I still see Swindon as a more talented side and the added depth will help in the heat on Sunday. I expect both sides to get on the scoreboard but for Swindon to edge it.
SFC 2 East
written by Joe Pinkstone
Ipswich Cardinals vs London Blitz B
N.b. Due to other commitments, this week’s predictions did not undergo the usual editorial oversight, and as such some content and comments that do not meet DC’s content standards was allowed to slip through. Apologies for this, we will endeavour to meet the standards we have set for ourselves going forwards. – Eds.
The Blitz are entering a period of four away games on the bounce, which is never plain sailing but if any team can manage it, it’s the imperious boys in blue.
In a dismal day for the ‘elite’ team, London’s little brother got the double-header festivities off to a hell of a start, dispatching the Sabres 58-0. Their last game was a 55-0 win against the Cardinals. So that means in the two games they have played in the month of June, they scored 112 points and conceded zero. Anywhere outside of Hastings, that is unheard of and surmises the utter dominance of this team. They have made Finsbury Park a fortress, never wavering in their approach to the game. They can run the ball with brutality and finesse, they can carve a team open with their passing game and every level of their vaunted defence is worth every ounce of the substantial praise it is getting as it steadfastly demolishes opposing offences. No team has scored on this Blitz since the opening weekend.
The truth is that I could wax lyrical about the Blitz B all day, as they’re a genuine bright spark in an otherwise cloudy division. With players all over the field and on both sides of the ball capable of scoring and changing the game in an instant, it’s small wonder they sit pretty (and undefeated) at the top of the league.
Ipswich are, by their comparative standards, also enjoying a successful season. I crushed them in my first match preview as I rightly pointed out, they were and have been a dismal unit for several seasons. Having said that, the team has hit a turning point this season and has found long-awaited success.
However, their gambit away from obscurity and towards mediocracy has left them with an inflated record that hides an easy schedule and nail-biting victories. They adequately took the metaphorical candy from the league’s baby when they vanquished the Pumas in back-to-back weeks.
One thing I will say is that the 50-burger-shutout double whammy never materialised, thought I thought I could speak it into creation in my prediction. Alas, my trusty foot soldiers failed me and fell short of the ‘Divine Duo’ (‘Power pair’? ‘Crippling combo’?) as they conceded a field goal and scored a ‘measly’ 41.
More comparable competition came earlier in the season when they edged past the Spartans and Sabres by the skin of their teeth. However, the elephant in the room and the unavoidable blotch on an otherwise healthy-looking résumé was the demoralising loss to the Blitz.
The demolition showed the two teams are in different worlds and yet, somehow, still in the same league. But not for long, as the Blitz will see this as a formality when travelling to Ipswich. The Blitz have playoffs, promotion and championship rings firmly in their sights and the Cardinals are going to get it with both barrels this week as they try to play spoiler to a party they have no invite to.
In the same week as the summer solstice, this will be the longest day of the year for the men in maroon as they host the team from the Capital. If you need me to spell it out for you, Blitz win. Easily.