By Samuel Stoddart Durning
Edinburgh Napier Knights vs Sunderland Spartans.
Both sides have everything to play for this weekend in this matchup on completely different ends of the spectrum.
Sunderland, you fought like the Spartans you are, right to the very end – taking Hull sharks to double OT last Sunday. However, it was not to be and we are sure the Division Two Borders will welcome you with open arms next season.
However, while their fate is sealed, there’s still a little more Div One balling ahead for the Spartans, who can keep things messy at the top of the table.
Sunderaldn held the Sharks to an 8-8 ground and pound match all through to the end last Sunday and considering Napier only bested the Sharks by a single score the last time the two teams met? This will not be the one-sided affair it was back in Week Five where Napier surpassed the Spartans with ease. The Knights cannot be to overconfident with this one.
The ramifications of Northumbria’s double header win over the seemingly unstoppable Tigers means The Knights have been thrown a life line for the conference crown. If Napier win out their remaining two games (Spartans at home and Mustangs away) they win their third straight conference crown spanning across two divisions with a very respectable 6-2 record.
All of the Knights 49 points conceded this season have come from the Glasgow Tigers and their hard-hitting defence will want to keep it that way after their bitter 14-9 defeat in the East vs West matchup.
With the return of offensive captain, WR Riccardo Burrows, after a short break stateside the offensive firepower should be upped a gear, especially knowing a conference title is within reach.
Sunderland would like nothing more than to go out swinging in this one but we feel the long trip north will yield light numbers and Napier will be hungry for the victory.
Napier to inch one step closer to conference champions
Northumbria Mustangs vs Hull Sharks
First of all, Northumbria, thanks for letting us know about the doubleheader secret you had going on there! SECONDLY, thank you for ruining my predictions and royally messing with DC’s league table!
In all seriousness though, fair play to the Mustangs pulling themselves out of the relegation window and into conference crown contention in one fell swoop – the turnaround of the year?
If both Northumbria and Napier come out with victories this weekend our conference crown battle royale will take place on the 25th February when the Knights travel for their final regular season game against the Mustangs. However, the Sharks currently stand (swim?) in the Mustangs’ path this weekend.
The Hull Sharks have been a bit of a head-scratcher all season. Reporting the loss of ten of their starting offensive eleven, including a standout QB, the programme was definitely in a rebuilding phase.
However, they have gone on to best former conference-favourites the Glasgow Tigers ahead of Christmas, and held Napier to just a single score in the second meeting between the two teams. On the flip side, they then went on to struggle against the one-win Sunderland Spartans last weekend so it’s tough to really know how much bite the Sharks have from one week to the next!
Mustangs escapades last weekend mean at present any four teams could yet win out in the North, and so at 3-3 Hull will be looking to push for at the very least some postseason action be besting the Mustangs and giving themselves a shot at a winning record.
With the inconsistencies of the Shark’s week in week out and the new momentum from the Mustangs turnaround weekend, we’ll give this one to the Mustangs in order to make juicy conference final between the Mustangs and the Knights come the 25th.
By Andy Loch
Sheffield Hallam Warriors v Sheffield Sabres
How the mighty have fallen.
Hallam, once the most feared team in all of Yorkshire, are currently limping their way to the end of the season. Opening the year undefeated and unchallenged through half their fixtures, all of a sudden the Warriors find themselves in a situation where losing this weekend could potentially force them out of a playoff berth, especially if results in other conferences don’t go their way.
Last weeks loss to UCLan all-but-lost them the conference Crown – all the Rams need to do now is win against the relegation-condemned Gryphons.
Momentum can be a cruel beast and it’s apparent that Hallam have been all outta mojo in recent weeks… but perhaps this being a Steel City derby, might give Hallam that extra edge they need to stop the rot?
The Sabres have swept the Gryphons in the last 10 days, and secured Div One balling for another year. They have the possibility of slicing their way into a playoff berth if they get the next two weeks right!
A win here will put them on the same wins as Hallam, with a game to play. A healthy win margin might even help them leapfrog their crosstown rivals. The last time these two met, the Sabres gave a good account of themselves before struggling through the second half, confounding the loss.
Hallam just don’t seem to be themselves right now, and Sabres recent performances have been strong enough that I am going with them to sneak through and make it to a potential playoff berth!
LJMU Fury v Leeds Gryphons
A few weeks ago this match looked like it could have meant a lot to both teams, but after the Gryphons double-loss to the Sabres, it’s really only the Fury who’ll be playing for more than pride this weekend as they chase a potential playoff berth.
The Fury are tied with the Sabres on 3-3, and if either team wins out they will more than likely push themselves into soem postseason action.
The Fury took a hammering from UCLan in back-to-back games, but pulled a big-time win out of the bag against Hallam. That form is what is going to be needed to see them through to playoff football.
Meanwhile, the Gryphons face the drop unless they find a way to pull off two upsets in a row, and also see a bunch of other results also go their way. It was always going to be hard making the jump to the middle tier, especially coming into probably the most competitive conference in the Nation – but at the very least the Gryphons can take a lot of pride from besting last season’s conference champs in Week Eight!
The Fury will win this and potentially move on to an all or nothing game against the Sabres to end the season.
By Erick Jupp
Staffordshire Stallions vs NTU Renegades
It now has been officially confirmed that the Stallions will be playing Division Two football next season. This is despite picking up their first victory of the season against Warwick last weekend in what was a very low-scoring affair, a single safety giving the Stallions a face-saving win.
With this now in mind, the Stallions will be looking to end of their season with a major high when they face some tough opposition in the Renegades.
The Renegades suffered yet another defeat to Nottingham Uni in their last outing, this time 21-6, meaning the best NTU can aim for now is second in the Midlands. They’ll look now to at least secure some postseason action and a win this weekend moves them one step closer.
Expect the Renegades to also be closely following the other fixture in their conference – as a Renegades win, alongside a Leicester loss to the undefeated Yoonaf, would lock the Renegades into playoff balling.
Last time around, this game was quite competitive, with both offences struggling to get the ball moving early… but as the game progressed, NTU managed to break down the resilient Stallions defence and get plenty of points on the board. Look for a similar game here, as the Stallions might come out of the gates fast, but the Renegades throughout four quarters should be too much for them to handle.
Leicester Longhorns v Nottingham American Football
The Longhorns will be looking to cause a major upset here when they face the unbeaten Nottingham students.
After their emphatic 50-7 victory over the Stallions in their last outing where they had an all-around great day on both sides of the ball, everyone should be feeling good after securing a spot in the division for next season. They will be motivated and confident heading into this one, even though they have the daunting task of taking on promotion favourites ahead of them!
Nottingham have now locked up the top spot in the Midlands in back-to-back seasons. The question for Head Coach Jason Scott at this point in his impressive debut at the helm is where priorities lie. Do Nottingham focus on protecting starters ready for a promotion run and repping depth? Or will the prospect of an undefeated season with #1 seeding and #1 ranking in offensive and defensive output in the tier be too much of a lure?
Looking at they have done this season, it’s possible that both can be achieved? Doing the double over their biggest rivals and free-scoring on the other teams in the conference show the power that this team has in their roster.
Nottingham will look to put the game out of Leicester’s hands early – much as they did last time around where they only allowed the Longhorns to put 8 points on the board. With the depth and quality of their roster, Nottingham should head to 7-0 for the season.