By Samuel Stoddart Durning
Northumbria Mustangs v Edinburgh Napier Knights
Well, as we reach my finals preds of the regualar season, I hope you have enjoyed reading about what has easily been the messiest conference in the tier this year!
The grand slam is here with the Knights marching down to the North East to take on the Mustangs in a conference-deciding final.
The Knights currently sit with a 5-2 record on the season and have well and truly cemented themselves as a competitive Division One programme, tangling with the best and showcasing they were not promoted to make up the numbers this year. Challenging for a conference crown in your first year of promotion is a huge feat for Coach Laird and his staff.
Napier, like the Mustangs, will be coming out of a short week after a 28-0 victory over an understrength Sunderland Spartans. Although the scoreline may imply that the offence on the Knights finally found its spark, it’s worth noting that two of these TD’s came from special teams from WR and Punt returner, Riccardo Burrows. Cornerback Jamie Clark also notched up a brace of interceptions on the day, emphasising the Knights’ ability to succeed in all phases of the game… Though a low scoring offence will not carry well into the postseason.
If the Knights want to extend their season they need to find a way to put up points in a more traditional manner this weekend and hope whatever formula they figure out carries into playoffs.
The Mustangs were on track for comeback story of the year. With the departure of HC Ben Johnson right before the start of the regular season and reportedly a number of key players also walking in an act of solitude, the Mustangs looked like a team that was in for a rough year.
This expectation carried right through until about three weeks ago where they pulled themselves out of a relegation hot seat into title contention with a doubleheader victory over a perplexed Glasgow Tigers. We thought this momentum would carry them easily through to victory over a mid-table Hull Sharks but ever-the-cause of head-scratching this year, Hull went and messed that up for us.
The Mustangs now have to take a win over Napier in order to be within a shot of the conference. A win’d put them at 5-3 with h2h over Glasgow, and potentially Napier too if it’s by a big enough margin. Hull could still oust them from the top spot if they were to beat Glasgow and that’d leave three teams at the top with 5-3 and… oh dear I’ve gone crosseyed. Maybe we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it!
Napier have a somewhat simpler situation. They know they’re gonna see at least some form of postseason action win or lose, but a victory here seals the deal on the conference crown.
This is going to be juicy but we’ll side with the new kids on the block and have the Knights lock up their first Division One crown.
Glasgow Tigers vs Hull Sharks
Sharks, once again you baffle me! Hull are truly are a team of peaks and troughs. Tangling with the best in the conference but struggling with the apparent basement dwellers, the Sharks may be distant outsiders to pick any silverware this year (see the mind-spinning three-way tie described above) but have shown they have a solid foundation of rookies who after this season will know what to expect in Division One and can start preparations for a 2019 title run this offseason.
Meanwhile, the Tigers will probably be still kicking themselves from the events of two weeks ago. After having all but sealed the conference after a Superbowl Sunday victory over Napier, all the Tigers had to do was win out the remainder for their fixtures to have a shiny new crown before entering into the postseason.
Flash forward to now and the Tigers are scraping the barrel for a playoff spot due to a doubleheader loss to the newly revived Mustangs. The Tigers now sit at 4-3 on the season and will be looking to win out this final game in order to take a step towards postseason balling this March. A loss and our favourites to take this conference miss out on postseason action entirely.
The last time these two sides met it was a defensive battle with Hull taking it right at the wire. We feel the Tigers will be out for blood after their mishap and be hungry to prove everyone wrong in the postseason.
Tigers to take it.
By Andy Loch
Leeds Gryphons v UCLan Rams
The Gryphons decided to throw another spanner in the works of 1A Yorkshire last weekend as they took down the Fury in a must-win game for the Gryphons’ mid-tier hopes.
Still, they’re not safe yet, as they still face the almighty task of beating the Conference-topping Rams and hope that the Sabres keep up their recent run of form to beat the Fury.
I might have jumped the gun in condemning them to relegation weeks ago, but the Gryphons have proven me wrong to give themselves this chance.
However, it’s not like Leeds can expect the Gryphons to pull any punches this week. All the Rams need to do to win the conference is avoid a defeat. The Sabres are the only team that could dethrone them based on their superior H2H record, so the Rams will be out to make a statement ahead of postseason action and secure their time at the top of the conference.
The Rams have been the chief benefactors of Hallam’s nosedive in form, and fresh off a bye week they are best placed to finish the regular season as 1A Yorkshire Champions. Winning this match up on Saturday would leave the Sabres to play for their playoff place, but no chance at a crown, on Sunday.
The Rams will do the business and get the win. The Gryphons will fight for their Division One lives but I think the Rams will just prove too much.
Sheffield Sabres v LJMU Fury
This game ultimately means different things depending on the outcome of Saturday’s Rams/Gryphons showdown.
If the UCLan Rams win their Saturday matchup, the Sabres miss out on a shot at the conference crown, but they still get to fight for a playoff place; Meanwhile, the Fury would be safe and sound in Division One for another year, before kick off even happens and instead able to attempt to swipe a postseason berth away from the Sabres.
Alternatively, if the Gryphons win, the Sabres could steal the conference crown with a victory, and the Fury would need to a W of their own simply to remain in Division One.
In crazy year in this conference, the Sheffield Uni Team can currently finish anywhere from first to fourth in the conference depending on results this weekend!
The Sabres have had a great second half of the season. By holding UCLan in check in their loss, they secured themselves the H2H lead, and they followed that up with big back-to-back 20+ point wins over the Gryphons to put themselves in the postseason mix.
Last week they overcame a disappointing streak of Steel Bowl losses to best crosstown rivals, Hallam (answers on a postcard for anyone that remembers Sabres last win vs Hallam). Playoff football at the very least beckons for the Sabres with a win here, and a chance to leap frog Hallam in the standings to boot!
The Fury have had what can only be described as an up and down season. They have split wins with Leeds and Hallam, beaten the Sabres back in November and lost both games to UCLan.
Losing to the Gryphons last week I’m sure would have come as a shock to the Fury. Winning here would not only secure Div One balling for 2018/19 but would also give us a three way tie for teams on 4-4 behind the Rams.
Hallam would hold the head-to-head over both to get the #2 spot, and LJMU would in turn displace Sheffield, swiping third and the likely postseason balling that comes with it (unless Leicester can beat NTU).
I’m predicting the Sabres to win this one based on their great form post Christmas.
By Erick Jupp
Nottingham American Football vs Warwick Wolves
Nottingham have the chance here to go undefeated for the season, after showing how talented their roster is and dominating so far this season.
In this game against the Wolves, they will be looking to prepare for the playoffs finally achieve their goal of getting to the premiership. With the power that they have in their squad, this is more than achievable.
Warwick, on the other hand, suffered a shock defeat to the Staffordshire Stallions in their last outing, but the damage was limited, securing them Division One balling for at least another season.
Their team has struggled at points through their campaign with some new faces trying to fill very big shoes. They will look to put in a good performance here against Nottingham, and odds are can learn a lot by taking on the #1 Power Ranked team in the conference.
Nottingham will look to do what they did in their 47-7 win against the Wolves, and keep forcing the Warwick offence off the field with three and outs while piling up plenty of scores of their own in order to secure their spot as the #1 offence in the tier (though they already have a fairly hefty buffer on their closest rival!).
Nottingham should take this quite comfortably and finish the season undefeated.
NTU Renegades v Leicester Longhorns
An interesting match up, where if the Longhorns want to stand any chance of postseason balling they’ll need to best an NTU side who’ve ultimately already secured their spot in the playoffs.
Still, it’s not like the Renegades are likely to let their foot off the gas – seeding is still important and they can secure a home berth in the first round of postseason action with a win here.
Last time these two teams met, Leicester were steamrolled by the Pink tide – their most absolute loss of the season so far.
They’ve put in some more promising performances since, and might’ve already locked up playoffs in their first year in the tier but for a one point loss to Warwick back in Week Eight.
Expect the Longhorns to be much more competitive that the last time these two met, but the Renegades are one of the best teams in the tier (not their fault they’re in the same city as THE best).