The Scots get a weekend off in Week Six, but we still see a bunch of fixtures in the lowest tier, including a stacked weekend in the SFC 2 East where six teams are in action in some crucial showdowns!
NFC 2 Central
By Stuart Dick
Morecambe Bay Storm vs Halton Spartans
Prior to the season both these sides would have looked at the re-jigged NFC 2 Central and thought to themselves the playoffs are a real possibility.
The Morecambe Bay Storm ended their rookie campaign with a playoff appearance and would have hoped to build on that with a conference title challenge – whilst the Halton Spartans moved from the NFC 2 South, avoiding heavy hitters such as the Birmingham Bulls, Staffordshire Surge and Lincolnshire Bombers, but did bring with them the Chester Romans – will have thought the same. The reality is both sides now stand at 1-1, and this early season game could decide which outfit will have a shot at the play-offs.
Morecambe Bay Strom started the season off in the opposite way they did their rookie campaign – on the end of an emphatic defeat at the hands of the Furness Phantoms. They did bounce back in scintillating fashion with a 46-6 demolition of the 0-3 Carlisle Sentinels – with QB Chris Mayne and WR Mark Baldwin linking up for four touchdowns – the receiver open all-day catching 6 passes for 124 yards and the four touchdowns, a good day at the office. The Storm racked up 374 yards of total offence with good numbers on the ground and through the air.
However, they face a much tougher task this week in the Halton Spartans.
Halton’s win also came against the Carlisle Sentinels in a 38-0 shutout victory, so the points differential between the two victories is negligible. The Spartans did suffer defeat at the hands of the Chester Romans in their last matchup – and will be eagerly anticipating getting back on the field and righting the wrongs of their last matchup. Defensive Back Mark Donald will be looking to lead the defence like he did against the Romans with an MVP type performance – but with more success on the scoreboard in this matchup.
Big game early in the season, with the Storm at home. However, the Storm’s six league wins to date in their existence have come against the Northumberland Lightning (2), Carlisle Sentinels (2), Knottingley Raiders and Walney Terriers – teams that boast a combined 14-80-1 record during that timespan (I’m not counting the rebranded Furness Phantoms.)
Can they overcome a consistent side such as the Halton Spartans?
I’m going to say not this weekend! Spartans to win.
NFC 2 South
By John Brady
Lincolnshire Bombers vs Staffordshire Surge
It’s been a rough start to the season for the Bombers, with two away losses to the Surge and the Birmingham Bulls, being shut out in both games.
Missing both their RB1 and 2 in Week One combined with heavy rain contributed to their opening day loss, with several close drives in the Red Zone being shut down and missing a field goal resulting in loss for their first game of the season. Their second game against the Bulls was again a shutout, with their starting QB Andy Bagnall and OC Nich Bagnall missing for the game helping to result in another shutout. They come into this game as definite underdogs.
Meanwhile, the Staffordshire Surge has had a strong start to the season, with an away win against the Knottingley Raiders and home wins against the Lincolnshire Bombers and the Humber Warhawks in the first four weeks.
With their defence only letting 8 points through in three games (despite having to deal with injuries and suspensions), compared to the 87 points their offence has scored so far, with RB Ryan Reid and QB Moses Ogundeji leading the charge, they look to be a very strong team with playoff aspirations under HC Jon Wyse, who has so far impressed with his return to the top of the coaching roster.
The Surge will be looking to continue their winning streak to stay at the top of the Division, while the Bombers will be looking for their first win of the season, with the home field advantage on their side for the first time this year. The first encounter between these teams was the Surge’s lowest scoring game this season, and with the home-field advantage and players returning from injuries the Bombers will likely have a stronger advantage than the first time they played the Surge. However, the Surge are top of the Division for a reason, being incredibly strong in both offence and defence and with the advantage of a bye week to recover and iron out any mistakes, it’ll likely wind up being their fourth win of the season.
Surge to win, but it’ll be close.
Humber Warhawks vs Crewe Railroaders
Crewe have had a mixed start to their season. A Week One loss to the Birmingham Bulls set their season off to a bad start, however a win against the Warhawks at home in Week Three gave them a much-needed confidence boost to their new organisational setup.
Despite low expectations of them from some pundits coming into the season, they have consistently sought to prove their critics wrong – such as with a strong defensive showing in their first game against Birmingham, giving up far less points than people anticipated. The last time they faced Humber the Railroaders proved their offence is more than capable of putting up points and gaining first downs, and they look to begin a winning streak as they face the Warhawks again this weekend.
Humber have had tough start to their season, with early away losses against both the Staffordshire Surge and Crewe Railroaders. With new committee members, coaches and a strong recruiting drive, they’ll be looking to gain valuable experience this season. The coaching staff are impressed with the progress the team has made so far, going from an unanswered 50 burger against the Surge to a much closer game against the Railroaders, with some key drives late in game resulting in putting points on the board. They look to continue the progress they have made so far in the season in their home opener by putting more points on the board offensively.
Both teams are well-respected for their heart and awesome team spirit, and will play to the final whistle no matter what. It will likely be a close game, especially with Humber having the home advantage.
SFC 2 West
By James Ogier
Cornish Sharks vs Somerset Wyverns
With worryingly small numbers, a postponement for their second game of the season and a loss in their opener, the 2018 season hasn’t started how they would have hoped for the Cornish Sharks.
The Sharks last stepped foot on the field at the end of April against the Torbay Trojans. The Cornish unit finished with a 26-0 loss, managing only one or two first downs. This was mostly thanks to the athletic ability of their quarterback.
The Cornishman under centre showed great potential and managed the offence well, but was given very little time to read the D as Torbay’s defensive line made light work of their O-line. Their defence was able to hold off Torbay’s O in some moments, but struggled in the red zone against their run game. The Sharks have had almost a month to prepare for this game and hopefully they’ve been able to recruit a few more bodies so that they can come compete this season.
The Wyverns, meanwhile, achieved their first win in the National Leagues against the Jurassic Coast Raptors last week. It was a convincing 42-8 win, which makes it all much sweeter. The Wyverns managed to click this fixture and show the potential that they have in this competitive conference – ensuring that they left themselves away from the bottom of their conference.
Coming into this fixtures, Somerset will be used to playing teams with strong run games and will be ready to go against the Sharks this weekend who haven’t seen action in nearly a month!
The Somerset lot are well into their season now. With this being their fourth game and Sharks struggling for numbers, I’d put my money on the Wyverns to take it.
SFC 2 South
By Patrick McAleer
Portsmouth Dreadnoughts vs Hastings Conquerors
Two teams whose early campaigns have taken very different trajectories.
The #6 ranked Portsmouth Dreadnoughts have opened their season with two confident shutout victories, while the Conquerors have proven themselves well off the pace of their opponents so far this summer.
Hastings have given up the two largest scorelines of the season so far in their two outings and odds are the shorthanded Conquerors aren’t about to have a much better time of it this weekend either.
We could share a bunch of platitudes about their work ethic – and in truth, it does display resilience to keep players turning up to training after heavy losses – but the reality is that this South coast duel overwhelmingly favours the Dreadnoughts.
Hastings, at least, are yet to be shutout so far this season, and it’d probably be an achievement in itself putting up points against Pompey on Sunday.
The Dreadnoughts are putting a good season together so far and I don’t see them facing a real threat until Week Thirteen against the Cheetahs. They’ll take the win here comfortably.
Bournemouth Bobcats vs Swindon Storm
Judging results so far this season, it’s looking likely to be between these two sides for the third spot in the conference and thet potential playoff berth that comes with it.
Bournemouth got back to winning ways last weekend against Hastings, with scores coming from all forms of the game, so they’ll come into this one with confidence.
Last week’s Offensive MP Alex Geas’ had two rushing touchdowns and one kick return score, so the Storm defence will have to stop him this Sunday. Bournemouth have new talent in WR Will Moreland, who got his first TD for the Bobcats, and also more veteran talent in Keith Barnes who added a nice score from the slot – expect them to continue this distribution to keep the Storm defence guessing.
Swindon meanwhile come into this one at 0-2 and will be looking to stop the rot this week in what’s already become a must-win game.
Last Sunday wasn’t the result they were hoping for against Herts, but they at least got on the scoresheet and their offence was moving the ball, so it’s going in the right direction.
The return of Ian Eastham will definitely help on this front but with the Cheetahs reacting to the mobile QB of Storm and slowing down the offence, they’ll need to keep the chains moving this week.
On the other side of the line, Swindon’s defence will need to react quicker to what they are seeing on the field, allowing the Cheetahs a lot of Yyards after Ccatch last Sunday. Still, with interceptions from a rookie and captain Dan Jeffery in the red zone against a strong Cheetahs team? The Storm have proven their defence is capable of making big plays.
This is the most difficult call of the season so far in this conference, as I really think it could go either way and will be decided by one score. After a big week last week and their offence getting going, while Storm have struggled so far…
I’m going to pick Bournemouth for this one but it wouldn’t surprise me if Storm come away with the win.
SFC 2 East
By Joe Pinkstone
London Blitz B vs Essex Spartans
London Blitz B take to the field in their second outing of the season, and their first in several weeks. First time out the blocks they defeated the newboys to the division, the Devils. The Blitz never looked overly flustered and coped well with an eager Norwich team in a steady performance that ground out a positive result.
The end result was a solid win. Nothing to berate the team about here – they churned out a good result and appear to have no clear weaknesses. Even so, the scoreline made it feel like somewhat of a let-down – the Devils put enough points to make the game competitive, but we might have expected a more dominant showing from what many considered to be the powerhouse in the confernece this year.
I thought the Blitz were going to turn up and stamp their authority on the game against Norwich and signal their intentions to the rest of the conference and the tier. Whether the pre-season hype surrounding the team has gone to their head and they were caught flat-footed against Norwich remains to be seen, but they will surely struggle against stronger and more experienced opposition playing the way they did against the team in yellow and blue.
Still, running back Rayann Tohr ‘tore’ through the Devils defence and ground the rookies down with his physical style of play. The bruising running back kept the defence honest and allowed the passing game to open up, with strikes to WRs Henry Charlton-Weedy and Simon Cruise resulting in scores.
On the other side of things, I failed to note any particular standouts on the D, as they gave up several scores to the Devils outfit.
Essex are the travelling team this week and will be tackling the Blitz in an important game for them. Before the season, I was preparing to dub the winner of this game the conference champ and wash my hands of the title chase for the rest of the season. It seems however that the conference is panning out to be highly competitive, for the most part. In an epic local derby last week the Spartans overcame a big 18 point deficit in the first quarter to pull a one point victory from the jaws of adversity.
The too-close-for-comfort win will have been sure to get the adrenaline pumping for the Spartans, but should also serve as a serious warning sign. It was a game they should have won far easier than they did, and the story is the same for their other games against the Cardinals and the Pumas – If they’re looking to pick up a title this season? They need to step up their game.
I think Blitz will have shed themselves of the rust and inhibitions that seemed to hinder them against Norwich and the noon kick-off in a big family day double-header will play into their hands. London to take it.
East Essex Sabres vs Ipswich Cardinals
When your DC correspondent makes three predictions about your game, nobody really expects all three things (or any of them) to be right.
Let’s recap: ‘Sabres to claim an unlikely victory, only three points in what will be a low-scoring game.’
Now, the final scoreline of 33-32 cannot be defined as low scoring but it certainly does fit within the three point thriller window I envisioned. For the Sabres though, the one thing they really wanted to see come true was snatched from their grasp in the cruellest of ways – they left the field last week with a bitter taste in their mouth after a one-point loss to their local rivals.
Ah, Sabres. You have my sympathy, losing a local derby in that fashion is heart-wrenching indeed.
It also raises questions about the team as a whole, to gift a 18 point lead away. Bookies would have been slashing odds on East Essex taking the W by the end of the first quarter… They then went on to concede 19 straight and this momentum shift resulted in a the loss
Now, they need to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and prepare for their game against the Cardinals this week, who seem competent on both sides of the ball.
The Cardinals were meant to play last week but encountered difficulty thanks to a lack of refs. Still, hopefully, there is an available unit for this week as the Suffolk team hope to continue their season.
Since my last match preview was for a fictitious fixture between the Cardinals and Devils (sorry about that everyone) and the team haven’t played since… so I’ll be pilfering my own preview for this week’s game! Don’t call me lazy, that’s simply common sense.
With several weeks off, the team is well rested and must be chomping at the bit to get back on the field this weekend. In their game against the Spartans, the team were led by solid play from QB Matt Agate and the rushing combo of Johnny Rodgers and Henri Clements.
An early 60 yard touchdown gave them the lead and the young squad held on for a one-point win against the Spartans. Despite some mistakes, a safety and sacks gave the team some momentum as the game progressed. As the Spartans mounted a comeback and snatched the lead in the fourth quarter, the backs of the Cardinals were up against the metaphorical wall. The Essex outfit looked to close the game out but an incredible 4th and 10 grab from the spectacularly named Fab Ortiz Barrs tied the game.
14-14 heading towards the final whistle, and with the extra point still to go kicker, Brad Ling stepped up for the extra point, after missing one earlier in the game…
He converted the XP, and it turned out to be the deciding score. 15-14 in the dying minutes of the game and a game-sealing interception from pass-catching sensation Ortiz Barrs gave the Cardinals their first W of the season.
This one is a tough one to call. The Sabres come into this after a nail-biting one-point loss, but are potentially still bruised from the physical game last week. The Cardinals are well rested, potentially rusty, but were in good form.
The one common opponent is the Spartans. The Sabres lost by one point and the Cardinals took that one by a single point…
Expect a super tight game between two evenly matched teams that could go either way with a single mistake, penalty or big play likely to decide the outcome here. Should be a corker…
But that two-point swing and fresh legs gives me the inclination to choose Ipswich here
Norwich Devils vs Maidstone Pumas
Here we go, the team I put in a preview and the team I omitted. Once again, apologies to all involved. I was going to draw something up for the actual game between Ipswich and Maidstone but it turns out that was entirely unnecessary due to a zebra shortage which meant the game didn’t get played.
Hopefully the fixture can be rescheduled; nobody wants to miss out on game time.
Again, forgive me for using my content from last week, if it’s still relevant it shall be used here.
In their last outing, the Norwich Devils impressed in several different facets of the game – but had prominent issues that need addressing urgently.
Run with military regimen at times, and laughably amateur at others, the team can be forgiven for the few teething issues in their first game back in the league as they performed admirably against the heavily favoured Blitz B.
Good numbers, good size and good players have laid a strong foundation built on the play and passion of a few key pieces.
Number 13, Adam Jones, was not only the best player on the Devils sideline against the London team – but was easily the best and most athletic player on the entire pitch.
An impressive long TD early in the game from Jones kept the rookie outfit in the game, but a quick adjustment to the Blitz game plan soon took the dynamic playmaker out the equation as he saw double coverage for the remainder of the game. This did not stop QB Andre Belles-Flores looking for his favourite target on several attempts, throwing risky passes, holding on to the ball too long at times and throwing interceptions.
Still, the American Import signal-caller clearly has exceptional upside, a broken play followed by a perfectly thrown out-route showcased his potential and arm strength. Whilst he had an abundance of field fashion (hand warmer in May, anyone?) the issue for the Devils was his lack of support.
Despite a large, and largely capable, offensive line for the Devils, the blitz-heavy defence from London exposed gaping weaknesses in the pass pro scheme – edge blitzes pressuring the talented QB. With no sign of a running game, and RBs that seemed confused by the concept of blocking a LB, the offence struggled. They managed to put several scores on the Blitz almost solely due to individual talent, but it certainly made for an entertaining game.
The defence, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy slating teams who work hard and try their best, but this must be said. The defence of the Devils is one with a lot of issues.
The defensive line was largely neutralised, with solid D tackles made ineffective by the inability of the defensive ends to either beat their blocker or set an edge. On one play, the defensive end was flattened instantly by the Blitz LT which led to the QB scrambling out the pocket for an easy 30 yard gain.
Undersized linebackers, poor tackling, slow corners and inexperienced safeties meant the competent offence was kept off the field for large portions of the game.
The team has athleticism and fantastic potential, but is far from the finished product.
All that being said, they are going into this game against Maidstone as heavy favourites– something the new boys may not encounter all too often until they become a proven commodity. I am under editorial guidance not to be overly harsh about Maidstone, so I shall keep it strictly factual. Two games played and a combined score line of 100-6. Two heavy losses.
Nobody wants somebody to rub salt in a wound or kick a wounded dog… But idioms aside, I secretly hope these words will spark a renaissance in the Pumas and they find their feet because they, and the league, needs it. Competitiveness breeds progress and progress leads to success. Steps are being made in the right direction, hopefully they can continue that this week,
For me, this raises greater questions about the organisation, coaching and structure of the team. Simply, and kindly, they concede too many, score too few, and appear a long way off where they need to be to win a game at the moment. When they win a game, the celebrations will be rapturous… But I don’t see them happening this weekend.
Wouldn’t let me post in one comment, sorry.
PS – I double checked the fixtures