By Thomas Snee
Derby Braves v Durham Saints
Coming out of the Christmas break, Derby looked dead in the Premier Division water. When a loss to a weakened Durham side in their Rain Week fixture put them at 0-4, not many would have given them chance of pulling themselves away from the relegation dog-fight, but perhaps coming so close to turning-over the top team in thee Prem gave them a confidence boost, and the tide has begun to turn.
They followed their shock overtime win at Stirling with a convincing dismissal of a lacklustre Leeds Beckett side last weekend, and the Braves are suddenly the North’s form team and appear well poised to pull off a Great Escape.
Standing in the way of that momentum, however, is the conference juggernaut – the Saints. Durham have been pretty dominant so far in their 2017/18 “redemption” campaign, their narrow rain week win over Derby perhaps the only real speed bump they’ve hit so far.
A win for the Saints would move them to 7-0, and while the we doubt team pride would allow them to sit starters in their Week Twelve match up against Stirling, the reality is the conference crown would be over, bar the shouting – stage one of the redemption complete?
Will this fool go for a hero pick and bet against them this weekend? Sadly not. Derby’s resurgence has been good to watch, but it ends here.
Durham to win
Loughborough Students v Stirling Clansmen
Loughborough had the shock of the season on the cards when they went two scores up on Durham last time out, but the second half saw their defence blown out by a rampant Saints side that didn’t fancy losing their unbeaten record. That defeat put Loughborough at the foot of the table with just a single win in the 2017/18 season and results elsewhere suggesting that they may now be in real trouble of dropping down at the end of the year.
This week’s matchup sees them take on a Stirling side that has spent their bye-week smarting about that incredible triple-overtime, fourth down, fake field-goal loss to Derby. That sort of thing has the potential to break a weaker team, but the Clan are masters of battling adversity. After that result, this game poses a bit of a potential banana skin for the defending National Champions, and though the Clan took a hefty win in the last meeting between these two team, we don’t expect this to be the blowout that comparative records might suggest.
The Students’ proud history of making the playoffs every season for Lord knows how long is under serious threat, and we can’t see their record getting any better this weekend. Expect them to stay in it for three, but Stirling to show their championship pedigree to box them out late on.
Stirling to win
Biirmingham Lions v Bath Killer Bees
Coming off the back of a tough shut out loss to the Destroyers this weekend, the Killer Bees head to Birmingham. The Killer Bees have had a really tough season this year and while a win this weekend is essential to them having any hopes of staying in the top tier, it’s going to be a big ask to take down a Lions side that look like they’ve found their form.
The initial meeting between these two was lost to weather, but we’d expect Brum to be campaigning to get it back on the slate before the year is out, lest the lost fixture potentially count against them in the title race.
Looking to the Lions, they’ve shown teeth in recent outings – Elliot Walters running strong and making plays, and defensive end Will Stone had an epic, sack-filled game, allowing the the team to turn over their Week One loss to the Titans last Saturday. Not to take anything away from the Bees, but the Lions may well be looking to this weekend’s game as an opportunity to rep depth and spell some starters ahead of a crucial Week Twelve outing against fellow frontrunners, Herts. .
This one should be pretty easy to predict, Lions win.
The last time these two teams met, both played a strong game with a low-scoring outcome that saw the Hurricanes come off the winners.
This week however, the ‘Canes have to travel the gruesome 3.5hr trek to Wales, meaning they could be starting off the game with a disadvantage. The Hurricanes have their fair share of athletes and will be looking to players like RB Dwight Caulker, who has done some HUGE running for the team this season, as well as WR Michael Bradley-Banszki, and QB Kit Varney and WR Kyle Jervier, to make some big plays in what is likely to be one of the most important games for them this season.
Having had a nice, almost, two months off to prepare for this game, they’ll be coming in fresh and focused upon keeping their Prem South title retention alive..
The Titans on the other hand have just come off the back of a tough loss to Birmingham, but are still very much fighting for the second place spot in the conference or better. With QB Sam Huxtable at the helm the Titans will have a big challenge ahead of them this Sunday.
With their own fair share of Senior ball players who are no doubt using these games to warm up for their season, the Titans have an array of skill across both sides of the ball. Between these ballers, the long trip for Herts, and the home field advantage? The Titans may be able to snag this one and really shake things up at the top of the South.
[edit – content missed in transfer] Although I think this will be a close game, the way the Hurricanes managed to shut down the Titans offence in the last meeting between these two make me think it’s still the ‘Canes game to lose. [/edit]