For Leeds Carnegie it’s been one hell of a journey to make it to what looks like their first ever National finals. Earlier this season it looked unlikely the small Yorkshire side would even make playoffs. They opened the season with a convincing shut out loss against Sheffield Hallam, and their pre-Christmas wins lacked confidence as their small squad size continued to be plagued by injuries to veterans.
Returning from the midseason break the Leeds side took a second heavy defeat to the Warriors, and then barely squeaked past a winless Manchester Tyrants in Week Ten. Feeling the pressure, there were explosions on the sideline as the club’s coaches and veterans began to feel the weight of expectations upon themselves.
However, the narrow win over Manchester was clearly the reality check the shorthanded roster needed, as they pulled together and won out the season. In fact, it’s been six straight weeks with six straight wins for Carnegie – going against the pundit’s picks for four straight wins against the Rams, Wolves, the scholar-boosted Nottingham and even turning over the mighty Hallam Warriors at third time of asking in the Northern Finals.
We caught up with Carnegie Rookie HC Dale Bottomley ahead of this weekend’s game:
“We don’t see it as revenge, we look at each game in isolation; we knew it would be a huge challenge for us to come away with a victory but we focussed on what had worked for us in the previous few weeks. The players have developed a huge amount in the second half of the season and have worked harder and harder as it has progressed. Coach Rowlands (DC) did a great job with the defence in the week leading up to the game and Coach Fraser (OL/DL) increased our effectiveness at the line of scrimmage which we struggled with previously. It also helps having other coaches step up and go far and beyond what ever is asked of them, just like Coach Charlton and Coach Winstone have done this year with the team.
With 22-24 players kitted at most games, we place a big emphasis on recovery and rehab so this was critical for us in the week between the quarter-final and semi-final. Our student sports therapist, Thomas Carling, has done a stellar job all season and the lads appreciate all the time he gives up to help them prepare.
Credit to Hallam; they are formidable opponents with very well coached and talented players that adjust extremely well throughout games – it was a huge achievement for us to overcome them.”
It’s your first year as HC of the team, after graduating from playing for Carnegie in 2013. What makes this programme what it is?
“We haven’t made major changes, the programme was in good hands with previous Coach, Paul Wake, who should take a lot of credit (along with the alumni) for laying the foundations for our success this season. We know our identity is that we are a small but tough squad that will give their all for one another. We have made this our strength and this has been the main reason we have been able to compete at the level we have against teams with double our number and larger in player size.”
We also want to provide the best experience possible for our student athletes, regardless of results, hopefully we have gone a long way to doing that this year.
What are you expecting from the National Final game this weekend?
“It’s an exciting time for the lads and it’s important they enjoy it as much as they can as games such as this don’t come around very often, if at all for some. That being said, we will approach it just like every other game we have had all season; play to our strengths and have a great game of football. We expect an extremely tough test form our opponents but one which we are very much looking forward to.”
Continuing to smash their way through the season the Destroyers are one game away from taking the Division One National Championship trophy.
The Cobras may have run the South Coast side close in the Southern Finals, but ultimately the Destroyers’ D proved unbreakable once again, keeping the Cobras offence to its lowest points total all year long!
All in their way have been defeated leaving Leeds like the last building remaining in a condemned city, the only target for the Destroyers.
Portsmouth’s run to this point has been a creation of hard work and incredible preparation. So far undefeated and one game away from the ultimate goal their numbers show the team’s progress this season has been almost flawless. All will be decided in the last 48 minutes of the season.
We had a chance to speak with Head Coach of the Destroyers, Alex Phillips, this week;
“We have had a chance to see what they do and think we have put together a good game plan. I don’t think we will change our mindset or the way we play.”
How much would it mean for the Destroyers programme to take National Championship and progress to the next level of competition? Are there any big names that will be potentially leaving with a Division one National Championship as their last game for the Destroyers?
“We achieved many of our goals for the season and gaining promotion to the Premier South was a massive one. Winning the championship would be cherry on top of a great year. There are many players leaving at the end of this season who have given so much over their careers here at Portsmouth.”
Has the team faced any difficulties from having played seven games in eight weeks, about to face their eighth game since January 29th?
“It’s tough, but we have been adapted how to practice and how to prepare for games. I feel confident that we have worked out how to get our team ready”
So, what did #TeamDC think after having heard from both Head Coaches?
Will Carnegie, chosen against all postseason long, finally end their run as #Wunderdogs and get their first selection by the majority of the team? Or will Pompey’s undefeated record that now goes back to 2015 see the Destroyers picked this weekend?