By Thomas Snee
Derby Braves v Stirling Clansmen
The Premier North season begins with a revisiting of last year’s opening day extravaganza, when Derby set down their marker as a force to be reckoned with with a 40-37 win over the Clan.
The Braves had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde season last year, but eventually ended up as losing as semi-finalists, having somewhat surprisingly knocked Birmingham Lions out at the first hurdle. On the coaching side, the loss of Rob Urquhart as Defensive Coordinator is a big blow, and it will be interesting to see how the team adjust.
As for Stirling, the reigning champions are a team on a mission, but have traditionally started slowly, causing everyone to doubt them and igniting the age-old siege mentality that has seen them take the title more often than not over the last five years.
Another close game in the offing, but we’re opting for the champions to start with a win (for once).
Loughborough Students v Durham Saints
Another repeat of last year’s opening fixture sees Loughborough Students welcome Durham Saints to the East Midlands. This time last year, we were high on the Saints, but the Students gave them a good fright in a 22-19 match up that the Saints only just scraped a win out of… Only – for reasons we are all now aware of – the fixture to end up marked down as a 1-0 win for Loughborough.
But what of this year? Limited information has come out of either camp ahead of 2017/18, but our sources in the north have told us that the Loughborough Students didn’t have a great time of it in a pre-season scrimmage against Sheffield Hallam of Division One, despite a strong performance from their defensive line. What can we read into that? Probably as little as we read into the Saints’ comfortable win over Newcastle Raiders in last week’s friendly…
Early season predictions are even more based on pure guesswork than usual, and we’re guessing the Saints will have just enough to beat the Students again.
By Rose Wilford
Bath Killer Bees v Hertfordshire Hurricanes
After a difficult season last year where Bath started on a high by beating the Birmingham Lions in their first ever defeat at xpLosION, they will have been disappointed with their performance in the remainder of the season. The Killer Bees only managed one other win through the rest of the year, beating Kingston Cougars 35-18, and saving themselves from relegation. Perhaps less pleasantly, the win also ‘won’ them a trip to the postseason… And a long old trip at that! Bath travelled away to Stirling in the Quarter Finals, after a long trip the team lost to a Clansmen who then went on to win it all.
The Killer Bees seem to have lost some key players this year, with stand-out defensive player Ikem Okwudiafor graduating in the summer.
The Hurricanes also lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, but had a better season overall, winning their conference. They come into this season with a change at Head Coach,with Simon Hatcher, longtime Defensive Coordinator, now taking the reins from Jim Messenger. Coach Hatcher, also former LB Coach for the GB students, comes with a wealth of knowledge having spent time travelling to Temple University in Philadelphia and shadowing Geoff Collins, HC of the Temple Owls, as well as former Florida Gators’ Defensive Coordinator.
The ‘Canes shook off the off-season rust with a pre-season scrimmage against Brunel Burners last weekend, while on the other hand the Killer Bees had to pull out of a preseason scrimmage at Filton Wise College against teams such as the Pride, UWE and Gloucestershire Gladiators.
While the Bees made the Hertfordshire side work hard for the win in Bath last year, I’m going to go with the Canes for this one.
Swansea Titans v Birmingham Lions
The Titans managed third place last year in the Prem South, which was their first year in the Premiership. This year, despite the departure of a fair chunk of their coaching staff, including HC Nick Keyse and OC Frankie Pankhurst, they are looking to push on and get a better result this season.
The Titans took part in a game against Filton Pride earlier in the preseason, which was a great opportunity for rookies to get an idea of what its like to be in a game. With the Titans stating that recruitment has gone ‘excellently’ it will be good to see how they fair this year in the Prem South and if they can compete against teams that have been cemented in the premiership for years. They pushed the Lions hard on both occasions last year, and a few calls the other way could have seen the welsh Uni side really shake up the top tier.
Meanwhile, the Lions have managed to recruit some exceptional talent this year with a number of rookies ready to make an impact in the first game of the season this weekend. With last year’s QB, Sammy Lee-Baker, lost to injury during last season just one of the key players the Lions lost during the off-season, Birmingham have put a lot of work into their preseason preparation. With their preseason camp consisting of classroom sessions, on-field practices and a scrimmage, the team has really focused on getting their players ready for the first game of the season.
U19’s National Plate winning MVP Quarterback, Rohan Sandhu, is a marquee addition to the roster, providing big stage experience and dynamic playmaking ability to patch the hole left under centre.
After achieving second place in the Prem South last season and not getting as far as they’d hoped in the playoffs, the Lions are focusing on a return to National Championship-winning ways, and working hard to ensure they get there.
I’m backing the Lions for this one as I think they’ll come into the season with a vengeance.