Another exciting Youth season was thrust upon us in 2016, with new teams making names for themselves and established sides making big strides throughout the campaign!
The Cobham Cougars took control of the Outer London West division early, sweeping the first tournament of the season, held by Farnham Knights, and shutting out the hosts in the process. Two 2-1 tournament records in the second and final regular season tournaments sandwiched another sweep at home as the Cougars clinched the division with a 10-2 record, heading in to the Championship tournament.
Meanwhile Buckinghamshire Wolves had clinched a top two finish (and ultimately, a place in the Plate tournament) by the end of the penultimate tournament, meaning the Knights – who swept the final tournament with three wins – were always on the outside looking in.
Kent Exiles opened their London South East campaign with defeat to London Blitz, but barely looked back. Finishing the opening tournament 2-1 with victories over London Warriors and East Kent Mavericks, the Exiles went on to sweep their home tournament. A 2-1 record at the Mavericks, in which the hosts avenged their earlier defeat over their Kent based rivals, was followed by another 3-0 record in the final tournament of the season, clinching the first place in the division.
Second place in the division fell to London Warriors courtesy of their head-to-head (2-1 record) over cross-London rivals, the Blitz. With Wembley Stallions withdrawing from the tournament, London Blitz needed to defeat the Warriors in one of only three games played that day to leapfrog their opponents. But the Warriors held firm, edging out the Blitz 27-25 and finishing 7-5 on the season.
There was no stopping the Essex Spartans in the Outer London East as they hit the ground running and only picked up speed as the season progressed. Finishing the season with a perfect 12-0 record, the Spartans averaged 31.9 points per game helped by a final tournament 50-burger over rookie outfit Bedfordshire Blackhawks.
But the Bedfordshire outfit rounded out the season in second place and booking a seat at the Plate tournament table with a 5-7 record. In fact, the Blackhawks had confirmed their place by third tournament, which was fortunate as a 0-3 record at the Spartans could have cost them their spot.
The second of three sides to register a perfect 12-0 regular season record, the Chester Romans flexed their offensive fire power at will throughout the North West campaign. Racking up an incredible 499 points at an average of 41.6 per game (including three 50-burgers), the Romans left the rest of the division in their dust. Not content with owning the best offense in Youth football, the Romans also shut out their opponents on four occasions, resulting in a league best 7.4 points per game against.
With defeat to the Romans, Manchester Titans needed to win their remaining games in the final tournament – one of which was against the challengers for second place, Burnley Tornados – and hope that results elsewhere went their way. Burnley took off against the Titans at the Pennine Panthers tournament, coming away with a 51-21 victory. The Titans avenged that loss at the Tornados’ tournament, winning 27-14. With a place in the Plate final up for grabs, the Titans stepped up again to defeat the Tornados 38-14.
In the South West, Solent Thrashers secured themselves a 12-0 record, topping the division ahead of second place Cornish Sharks, who were afforded the luxury of losing all three games at the Solent tournament, having already been assured of a a top two finish.
The Birmingham Bulls shook off defeat to Birmingham Lions in their opening game of the Central division by winning 11-straight games to lock themselves in to first place in the division conceding just 9.4 points per game (4th best nationally), the Bulls qualified for the Championship a year after missing out via the playoff tournament in 2015. The division was hit by the inability of Sandwell Steelers to compete throughout the season, but we’re hearing they’ll be in good shape come the 2017 campaign. Tamworth Phoenix claimed second place, bettering the Lions’ record by just half a game in a tightly contested division.
Blowouts and walkovers were on the menu in the North East throughout the 2016 season. An incredible 18 of 36 games were awarded as walkovers, 2 awarded as ties, and 4 games seeing 50-burgers racked up as Lincolnshire Bombers clinched the #1 spot with a padded 10-2 record. Leeds Academy Assassins edged out Doncaster Mustangs for the #2 spot. With both sides owning 9-3 records, the Assassins were heading the Plate final courtesy of the superior head-to-head (2-0).
Perhaps the biggest shock throughout the regular season came in Scotland, where East Kilbride Pirates claimed the top spot with an 11-1 record, including 3 wins over the perennial powerhouse Highland Wildcats, who progressed to the Play final with an otherwise solid 9-3 record.
The opening round of the Plate final saw the team furthest North take on the team furthest South, as Highland Wildcats squared off against Cornish Sharks. In an indication of things to come, the Wildcats routed the Sharks 48-0 to book a place in the semi-final. Elsewhere in the quarters, Buckinghamshire Wolves outlasted Manchester Titans in a shootout, eventually coming away victorious 35-24. Tamworth Phoenix did what their adult side couldn’t, and defeated a London side in the playoffs, edging out London Warriors 19-14, and Leeds Academy Assassins took down Bedfordshire Blackhawks 24-13.
The Wildcats’ unstoppable form continued in the semis, as they once again shutout their opponent, defeating the Wolves 38-0, whilst the ‘Nix booked their final spot with 32-19 win over the Assassins. In the final, the Wildcats finally conceded post-season points but still prevailed to become Plate champions, defeating Tamworth 33-6.
The tournament seeding ensured spectators would be treated to some excellent match-ups right out of the gate. Birmingham Bulls rallied late on, but couldn’t find a way past the East Kilbride Pirates‘ defense deep in the second half, as the Pirates ran out 16-8 winners. Chester Romans continued to show off their offensive prowess by slamming 40 points on Lincolnshire Bombers.
In the second half of the format, Cobham Cougars edged out Solent Thrashers by just two points in a 24-22 win. But the closest game of the first round was decided by a single point as Essex Spartans edged out Kent Exiles, 8-7.
Entering the semi-final, the Pirates continued their tough defense, restricting the Romans to just two scores in a 25-13 win. Cobham dispatched the Spartans 34-14 to set up a final clash against the Pirates. In a rather one-sided final, the East Kilbride Pirates were crowned champions following a 37-6 rout of the Cougars.