Into the penultimate weekend of the season in the middle tier, and the South has the weekend off. With the NFC1 North title still up for grabs, all eyes will be on the War of the Roses.
NFC 1 North
By Nathan James Sharrocks
Lancashire Wolverines vs Yorkshire Rams
The big War of the Roses rematch. The Yorkshire Rams make the relatively short trip across the Pennines to the heartland of Lancashire, to the county capital of Preston, and they’re on a revenge mission. The Rams fell to the Wolverines back in early June as the Lancashiremen ended their rivals’ unbeaten start to the season with a 20-29 victory.
The Wolverines have gone from strength to strength and continue to put pressure on the Northumberland Vikings at the top of the conference. They still need the Vikings to slip up before they meet next weekend in order to capture the NFC1 North crown, which is unlikely to happen unless their postponed game with Leeds is ruled a tie, but all the Lancashiremen can do now is beat what’s in front of them, and that starts with Yorkshire.
The Rams come off the back of a burger and shutout victory over Glasgow, a lovely little 53-0 win, but that win simply shows the difference in class within this one conference. Whilst the Yorkshiremen have been dominant over the teams below them in the table, they’ve shown a distinct lack of edge in their three games against the two teams above them, succumbing to a 0-27 loss against the Vikings just a couple of weeks after pushing them close on the reverse fixture in the North East.
And I think the same will happen again here. The strength of the Wolverines has shown on their six-game unbeaten run, with a dominant defence providing them with shutouts in their last three games. It’s hard to predict against that kind of form. Lancashire Wolverines to win.
Northumberland Vikings vs Glasgow Tigers
After a nervy start to the season with a brace of one-point wins, the Northumberland Vikings have simply dominated. With four shutouts in their seven unbeaten games, the Vikings will be within touching distance of the NFC 1 North conference crown with a win against the Glasgow Tigers… were their postponed game with Leeds declared a walkover? It’d seal the deal with a game in hand.
The Tigers have struggled offensively and, whilst their defence hasn’t been too bad over the course of the year, they’ve conceded 110 points in the last three games. That spells trouble when they face a team that’s scored 239 points and conceded just 62, with more than half of that 62 happening in their first two games, now nearly three months ago.
Glasgow are coming off the back of a 53-0 shellacking at the hands of Yorkshire and will want any kind of improvement – a score, halting a burger, anything.
This one is only going one way, and the Northumberland Vikings will be teetering on the brink of a conference championship, avidly awaiting a decision on the missing Bobcats fixture. Northumberland Vikings to win.
Gateshead Senators vs Leeds Bobcats
Last place takes on second to last place in this one, with nothing but pride to play for now that the Leeds Bobcats are mathematically relegated.
The Bobcats have struggled through the season and, as I’ve repeatedly said in these predictions this year, it’s probably a good thing for them to be relegated. They’ve built the club in the correct way – good youth, junior and uniball links, good sponsorships, good coaching staff – but the promotion tothe middle tier was too much too soon and they’ve struggled against the bigger boys.
Meanwhile, the Senators have loped through the season, with their highlight probably coming early on with a tie against the conference-chasing Lancashire Wolverines. Since then they’ve traded wins with the Glasgow Tigers and beat the Bobcats 20-28 on their way to a 2-5-1 record.
NFC 1 South
written by Grant Dean Lawless
Leicester Falcons vs Doncaster Mustangs
Leicester will look to lock up their unbeaten regular season as they host the Doncaster Mustangs. Expect to see many of the Falcons rested in order to remove all risk of injury. Their game against Sandwell to secure the conference crown saw several key players pick up knocks. That said, Leicester have enough depth to field their third-stringer and still be competitive.
Doncaster managed to do the double over the Jets this season to keep them in Division One next year. With it looking like the NFC2 South champions Staffordshire Surge in the driving seat to join the conference next season, it’s already looking like an uphill battle for the Yorkshire outfit to remain in the middle tier in 2019, but they can maybe build some confidence if they’re able to compete here.
Perhaps the key thing to focus on in this game will be the Falcons’ ability to keep the Mustangs off the board. They’re the #1 seed in the north by merit of their defence boasting a 7.0 PAPG coming into this game, and while the Vikings in the NFC 1 North still have some tough matchups ahead of them, it’d only take around 14 points conceded to drop the Falcons into the #2 seed if Northumberland earn a shutout against the Tigers on Sunday.
With depth that most teams would be jealous of, the Falcons will still be too hot to handle. Expect second and third stringer coming out to fight for game time during playoffs. These guys will want to dominate to show the coaches they might be worth the start. Falcons take it.