By Thomas Snee
Loughborough Students v Derby Braves
The pointy end of the season has arrived! Having already played seven of their eight games of the regular season, Derby go into this week’s rivalry clash with Loughborough knowing that a win would keep them in the Premier Division for another year – something which looked extremely unlikely just a few short weeks ago when the Derby side completed the first half of their campaign without a win to their name.
This one won’t be a cakewalk though – the Braves lost against Durham in their last outing, and are currently the only side that Loughborough have beaten so far this season in a hard-fought fixture back in Week Five.
And what of the Students? For several years, this writer has tipped Loughborough for the drop and – much like his annual bet on Aston Villa a few years back – it finally looks that way. The former Aces failed to score a point for the fourth game out of six in last week’s loss to Stirling, and the writing could be on the wall with another defeat here.
The Students have typically saved their best for later in the season in recent years, but this one may be a bridge too far.
Derby to win and complete the Great Escape.
Leeds Beckett Carnegie v Stirling Clansmen
Momentum is a cruel mistress.
Before Christmas, Leeds Beckett were rolling on their title-winning form from last season and were pulling off shocks and bloodying noses left, right and centre. However, the wheels have come off in recent weeks, with the loss of talismanic quarterback Chris Winrow to a shoulder injury coinciding with two straight shutout losses.
Reports from the Carnegie camp suggest he should be back this week, and they will need him as they take on one of the title favourites.
Stirling strode to a stately stomping of Loughborough in Week Ten, all but locking-up the North’s second seed and banishing the demons of that shock loss to Derby. The Clan’s consistency in recent years has come at the tail end of the season, with the team usually getting into their stride just as the playoffs begin.
Leeds has proven a tough place to go this season and Carnegie knows that a win could seal their Premier North status for another season – the first ever promotee to the Northern Prem to survive a year – but the Clan will prove too strong in this Week Eleven matchup.
Stirling to win
Bath Killer Bees v Swansea Titans
This is the third game in nine days for the Killer Bees after heading to Birmingham on Wednesday in a game that saw the Bath side come away with a relegation-sealing loss, despite putting in their best offensive showing of the season.
They’ve had a tough campaign and Division One balling now beckons to them. This game will be another big test for the Killer Bees. The Titans are currently fourth in the Prem due to a Points Against disadvantage against to the Destroyers and no head-to-head match up played yet. As such, they won’t be taking any prisoners in this game – unwilling to risk another rain delay potentially sealing them into #4 in the conference and facing a daunting trip to the undefeated Durham in the postseason.
Even so, the Killers Bees have nothing to lose and will be throwing themselves into their last game of the season and hoping for a face-saving W.
The Titans had an insanely close game against the Hurricanes last week, essentially coming down to a goal-line stand by the ‘Canes. The 4 point loss means despite their hot start to the season, the Titans won’t be earning a home-berth for playoffs this year.
Still, eager to ensure a strong finish to the season, expect the Titans to rebuild some momentum against the Bees ahead of a possibly crucial final fixture against Pompey to round out the year.
Titans to win.
Portsmouth still have the chance to get the third place spot if they can secure a win against Swansea in a couple of weeks, but first they play the second place Hertfordshire Hurricanes who still have hopes of retaining their Prem South Title.
Both of these teams have big dreams for this game and with such a lot to lose both teams will be going all out to get the W.
Destroyers have only scored an average of 18 points per game so will need to work incredibly hard to fight off the ‘Canes who have scored more than that on them already this season. The Destroyers will be hoping they can pull something out of the bag and bump themselves in front of the Titans – potentially allowing them to dodge a daunting trip to the undefeated Durham in the postseason.
The Hurricanes need this win, if they can win this game and their last game against Birmingham, they’ll keep hold of their Prem South title for another year. After a successful game on Sunday against the Titans, the Hurricanes should be feeling like they can more than handle the Destroyers, who they beat 20-0 the last time these two teams met in December.
Having another great game last week, WR Michael Bradley-Banszki seems to be having a great season along with RB Dwight Caulker, both of whom had two TDs against the Titans last weekend.
If they can step up again on Sunday the ‘Canes will be dominating this purple-on-purple showdown.
‘Canes to win this one.