#Britbowl32 | Britbowl XXXII National Championship Preview

Tamworth Phoenix vs London Warriors

This could well be the toughest to pick National Championship fixture in many-a-year as the Tamworth Phoenix seek to hold on to their status as British Champions, against the Britball Powerhouse of the last half-decade – the London Warriors.

Both teams have made it to this point undefeated… and, in truth, largely unchallenged – putting up incredible numbers throughout the regular season to earn their way to John Charles Centre for Sport, Leeds, to battle for the Britbowl Trophy.

The Phoenix

It’s worth remembering for those who may be new to the British game, that the Phoenix weren’t even really in the conversation for a British title even a few seasons ago. The midlands side rose rapidly up the Britbowl ranks since entering the League in 2008, but the reality was from 2010 to 2017, there were only really two teams considered contenders for the title, the Warriors and the Blitz, and whichever Premiership North outfits made it to the postseason were typically considered mere speed-bumps on the road to the two London teams meeting in the title game.

That all changed last summer, when following a rampant 10-0 regular season campaign the Phoenix hosted the Warriors in a game many expected to be another example of southern dominance. However, Tamworth’s home-crowd ‘Phamily’ established itself as a twelfth player to be feared as they buoyed the northern side to an upset victory 38-24 victory over the Warriors, advancing the Phoenix to their first every Britbowl!

An absolute corker of a game against the London Blitz ensued, with the lead changing back-and-forth in a game stacked with drama and controversy, before the Phoenix eventually emerged on top for the programme’s first ever Britbowl victory!

The Phoenix have followed up their success with perhaps an even more impressive 2018 season so far: this summer saw the Phoenix take their first foray into European football, finishing third out of four teams in the Northern European Football League, though the extra fixtures clearly didn’t impact the Phoenix’s domestic campaign as they romped to ten comfortable victories through their regular season, before dispatching Britbowl XXXI rivals, the London Blitz, 30-17 in the semi-finals setting up a second-straight north-versus-south showdown in the Britbowl Final… This time against a similarly undefeated London Warriors!

Head Coach Jason Scott shared his thoughts about the season so far:

“It’s been a really enjoyable season, but it’s not been without its adversity – losing away in the NEFL to Copenhagen was a really humbling experience, and it’s served as a big motivator throughout the season. We knew that we weren’t at the level we wanted to perform at, so the season has been about consistently performing at our peak performance.

Beating Oslo in NEFL Week Three was a fantastic experience, and we’ve ridden that momentum ever since. We’ve broken club records in points scored, and total defence, and we’ve had great fun doing it.

We’re really happy to have shared that experience with as many players as possible; for instance, we have 19 players who have recorded offensive touchdowns, and 38 players who have had at least one tackle throughout the season. It’s this strength in depth that has helped us during the run-in, allowing our team to perform as we have.

It’s not just the team on the field, we’ve got a fantastic, dedicated coaching and support staff, an amazing committee, and the team at Pack Meadow have been wonderful – they might not make any plays on the field, but they’re as essential as any member of the playing roster. James Hossack has been a fantastic president, and has provided the foundation for all our success.

I would be remiss to not thank the #phamily for the incredible support they continue to show us, the atmosphere – to quote one Twitter user – was “rocking” at Pack Meadow last week, and I hope that they travel well this weekend.”

Photography (c) Photo Phoenix

Looking ahead to this weekend, Coach Scott said the Phoenix are out to prove last season’s Britbowl title wasn’t a one-off:

“We’re aware that a lot of the Britball Community still think that last season was a fluke, and we’re out to prove them wrong. We’ve worked hard to get here, and we want to make sure we come away with the win.

They’re a hugely talented team – the lions share of the GB roster at the Euro’s were representatives from the Warriors – they have playmakers all over the field. We’re going to have to work hard to bottle them up, and stop them from making plays.

I have a huge amount of respect for Coach Allen and the Warriors, and our history is somewhat intertwined, as we competed for the Division 2 bowl in our respective first seasons, back in 2008. They have been the benchmark for British football for so long, and to beat them in the semifinals last year was a watershed moment for the Phoenix and football in the Northern Conference.

They’re sending players and coaches to the NFL, they have a stacked roster, incredible coaches, and a city of millions to draw from. We’re going to have our work cut out, but that’s why we play the game – we relish the challenge, and want to prove that the Phoenix are here to stay.”

 

Ones to watch

Perhaps it’s the nature of the game, but this section typically gets overrun with offensive stars – but not so this weekend, when both team’s defences are coming off such incredible seasons! In a defence stacked with GB-Calibre talent, defensive lineman Wayne Drew has had a particularly strong season. A baller both on and off the field, Drew initiated the Lifting the Lid campaign this summer as well, raising awareness of mental health issues in sport – particularly our own.

He impressed in his call-up to the GB Lions during the Euros, and currently leads the Phoenix defence with 12.5 sacks on the season. Lining up alongside fellow GB D-Line, Ashley Miller, the Phoenix D has caused havoc this year, right into the postseason – Linebacker Dan Shodipo finding the London Blitz Quarterback for 3.5 sacks in the semifinals, and safety Oli Campbell is currently at five pick sixes on the year… and counting?

Of course, lest we forget the team-record-breaking year Coach Dan Smith’s offence has had! Behind a superb offensive line the teams running back corps have had beastly seasons – Adam Hope (640 yards/7tds), and Elliot Walters (654 yards/8tds) may have carried the bulk of the workload, but 14 further touchdowns were punched in by a deep stable of backs.

However, it’s tough to talk about the Phoenix without mentioning quarterback Patrick Daley. A victim perhaps of his own success, it’s rare Daley gets to play out full games because whether it be with the Phoenix or his Uniball team the University of Nottingham, the games typically get so one-sided he’s got his feet up by half-time. Best as we can tell, Daley’s now on the cusp of making it three back-to-back seasons (Adult-Uni-Adult) without losing a single domestic game of football!

He got the Lions share of the snaps for GB at the Euros this summer, and is a dynamic threat both through the air and on the ground.

Certainly, the Tamworth passing offence is looking dangerous, as Daley and backups Sam Huxtable and Angus Cook have combined for 40 touchdowns to only four interceptions in the regular season – James Hossack emerging as the favourite target, though notably a whopping seventeen players have receiving touchdowns for the Phoenix this year, emphasising their willingness to share the ball around in 2018.

 


The Warriors

The London Warriors have spent the last decade building their way to dominance over the British game.

Since entering the league as the Cobras, Head Coach Tony Allen’s side have rocketed their way up the Britball rankings, brawling their way to their first Britbowl game in 2011, and their first win in 2013. With a taste for victory, the Warriors followed this up with three further back-to-back titles through to 2016, and with the margins of their Championship victories over the Blitz only seeming to grow larger from one season to the next, appeared unrivalled atop the British game.

Dabbling with European football for the first time in 2017, the extended season was potentially a contributor to the Warriors shockingly missing out on a chance at defending their National Title when they fell 38-34 to the Phoenix in the Semi-Finals.

As such, the Warriors were taking no chances, and no prisoners, in 2018. They’ve looked utterly dominant all year long, especially on defence, and wrapped up their regular season with a statement performance – dominating local-rivals the London Blitz with a 51-8 scoreline in Week Eighteen.

Ever a close-knit outfit, getting information out of this programme can sometimes be hard work. Rather, the Warriors perhaps let their successes speak for themselves: former Warriors players Efe Obada and Tigie Sankoh will both be participating in the 2018/19 NFL season, Obada making the cut for the Carolina Panthers 53-man active roster this year, and Sankoh joining the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad as part of the NFL’s International Player Development Pathway.

We reached out to the Warriors for comment and insight… But the programme have ‘gone dark’ coming into this year’s finals and we simply couldn’t get a peep out of them!

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Ones To Watch

This is a tough one with no info coming out of the Warriors themselves, so we’ll do the best with what information is available.

Similarly to the Phoenix, with the Warriors the first focus needs to be on the astounding season their defence has had. Despite playing in the arguably more competitive Prem South, the Warriors lead the league in defence this year with just 33 points conceded through now nine games of football played. They’re talented across the board, but one baller who’s has an outstanding year both with the Warriors and during his stint with the Lions is Josh Amis. 

Whenever and wherever he lines up on the field, the speedster is a threat. Amis was a rare bright spark for the GB Lions in their early Euros fixtures, including an incredible ~90yd pick six to open GB scoring in the tournament. It sometimes feels like the bigger the stage? The bigger the plays produced.

Amis is part of a defensive secondary that includes two further GB player – Leslie Oluwole-Wilson and Sam Obi, so it’s a brave team that looks to go long on the Warriors!

Looking to the other side of the football, and we have our work cut out for us to pick a standout talent here, because there’s a lot of it in Coach Matt Bruckner’s offence! It would be easy to start with the Warriors’ run game that’s proven utterly destructive this year… But the truth is we’ve struggled to dig up much info about their standout rushers – we believe Raymond Sobowale currently leads a pack of bruising runners.

So instead, perhaps the place to start looking may be in the incredibly talented receiving corps that provided the Lions share of the GB wideouts – including James Cherry, Stuart Milloy, and Ian Jacquet? But again, with no numbers to work with from the Warriors, we’re best off just highlighting the whole unit as a threat…

So instead we fall back on the reliable option of singling out the quarterback – Nick Jacquet!

With Jerome Allen not returning to the Warriors this summer, Jacquet stepped back up into the starting QB role and has impressed throughout. His brother, Ian, has already got one Britbowl MVP Award for the family cabinet, could Nick add a second with a strong performance from under centre for the Warriors on Saturday? A mobile quarterback who’s already led the Warriors to one Britbowl victory, expect Jacquet to be poised this weekend, with no qualms about leading his team back to the top of the British game.

 


By the Numbers

As is obvious from the chart – both teams had astoundingly dominant campaigns!

Both teams wrapped up their years conceding on average less than a single TD per game, and scoring more than a #50Burger each time they took the field across ten- and eight-game regular seasons for the Phoenix and Warriors respectively.

The Tamworth offence racked up over 2,500 yards of passing this year between their three QBs, with 19 different players notching up a score or more this year!

Across from them the Warriors defence has five shutouts through nine games, and has only allowed more than a single score once all season long!

When last they met…

As noted above, the Warriors headed north to face the Phoenix in the 2017 semi-finals, falling afoul of a late score from Tamworth to miss out on a Britbowl berth for the first time since 2011.

And who’s taking home the trophy?

It’s never easy to judge two teams from separate halves of the top tier when there’s so little overlap between the opposing outfits’ seasons so far.

In terms of common opponents, both teams made short work of the Manchester Titans, and each also took away wins from the London Blitz this summer. The crucial question could well come down to how much you read into the Warriors’ huge statement victory at the close of the season – the 51-8 smashing of their local rivals.

Sources linked to the Blitz had told us this was down to Blitz pulling starters once they realised a conference title was out of reach – saving key players for the trip to Tamworth… But a number of Warriors alums were quick to point out to us after publication that this wasn’t the case…

So which team will we see on Sunday? The one that held only a 7-0 lead at the halftime break? Or the one that crushed their way to a 51-8 win in two quarters of football?

Whatever way you shake it, the Warriors are a dangerous team with a proven winner’s pedigree, but the Phoenix are out to prove last year wasn’t a ‘phluke’ and are sure to be bringing a rowdy crowd with them up to Leeds tomorrow…

As ever, we asked both the #TeamDC BAFANL office and the entire Britball Nation to make their picks coming into this game…

Spoiler

While it’s ended up two-to-one in favour of Tamworth, it’s fair to say few made their picks lightly – including a couple of late-swappers amongst the team! Few felt there was a clear favourite here…

And the same has been reflected in the community poll, where Tamworth edge the vote 56% to 44%. Expect the Warriors to relish the prospect that for the first time in a long time they’re possibly coming into a fixture as underdogs!


Remember, you can get involved with Britbowl XXXII yourself! Either head to the game, hosted at John Charles Centre for Sport, Leeds, or watch live online, brought to you by Onside Productions!

 

 

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Nick

Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1