Solent Thrashers @ Kent Exiles
We’re taking another trip to the SFC 1 this weekend, as while the undefeated Bury Saints appear to have the conference crown all but wrapped up, the race for the #2 spot and a guaranteed postseason berth is only just heating up!
With these two teams only a game apart, and two of their final three games being against one another, whoever wins out from the tussles between these two is likely to give themselves a great shot at some postseason glory.
Who are they?
If any team’s going to fight tooth and nail to reach the postseason, surely it’s the Thrashers? The perpetual ‘nearly-men’ of the second tier, the Andover-come-Hampshire-come-Solent Thrashers have been one of the more consistent programmes over the past few seasons… Sadly this has also included them consistently missing out on promotion as they falter and fall in playoff football.
Reaching the National Leagues semi-finals in 2014, the Thrashers one-upped themselves last year by making it all the way to the Division One final, only to lose out 38-27 against an impressive Farnham Knights team that have gone on to more or less hold their own in the Southern Premiership.
The Knights success has played some part in the Thrasher’s own struggles this season, with a number of players making the transfer over to nearby Farnham to get a shot at some Premiership balling. As such, the Thrashers were a little slow out of the gates this season, starting out 1-2 before beginning to find their groove in week six. In week nine veteran Head Coach Graham Thorpe’s side gave the Saints a scare that the final 27-48 scoreline does not reflect – keeping pace with Bury’s highpowered offence for much of the game before dropping behind in the closing minutes. Their most significant loss so far on their road to 4-3 must surely be the narrow 19-14 defeat to the Sussex Thunder. Along with the two teams taking part in this match up, the Thunder are the other rival for a guaranteed postseason berth and with the Exiles already having done the double over Sussex? If the season ended today the Solent side would be the ones to potentially miss out on August football.
New boys to the division, the Exiles have proven they had no place in the basement tier last year – trouncing their way through the regular season before earning promotion through strong playoff performances. Fast forward to 2016 and all the new programmes to the SFC1 (Saints, Thunder and Exiles) have clearly shown their spots in the First Division were well-earned, turning the conference on its head as the incumbent Gladiators and Cheetahs suddenly find themselves with the shadow of demotion hanging over them.
Head Coach John Moore’s side have proven consistent if not spectacular on both side of the ball this year, with a health average of 20pts/game on offence and a D that has proven stingy (when it’s not up against the Saints (8ppg conceded). The biggest question in this game might be whether the Exiles can keep pace with a Thrashers scoring unit that’s averaging nearly nine points per game more than the Kent team.
When last they met…
These two teams last met in the 2013 National Leagues postseason.
The Exiles were coming into the playoffs hot off a record setting season, putting up their highest single-game offensive total against the Maidstone Pumas, and achieving their best regular season record since they went undefeated as far as the Division 2 BritBowl back in 2005.
Solent meanwhile, in their first season under their new moniker, came into the game even hotter still, having smashed their way through the regular season undefeated… And indeed, the Exiles didn’t offer much resistance either.
Solent powered their way to a convincing 43-8 victory. We’ll be hoping for something a little tighter this weekend!
What to watch out for:
- Dayle Greenfield is the Thrashers’ man under centre and has proven to be a dual threat this season. He threw for two scores against the tough Bury Saints Defence, and both rushed and threw for scores last week against the troubled Gladiators. His favoured target last weekend was Paul ‘Toast’ Brady, but Academy product Joe Pascoe has also racked up the catches – recently breaking the club record for yards receiving in a game.
- Heading an able stable of running backs, Tom Bane has led the Thrashers in scoring over the past couple of weeks – a hard hitting runner Bane has proven adept at smashing the ball through to the pay dirt at the goal line.
- The heart and soul of the Thrashers are Ed Butcher and Adam McClure who both play both ways down in the trenches.
- The Exiles should certainly be healthy, having had effectively three weeks off since their last competitive fixture – a rough 41-14 loss to the Saints. Will they have managed to regain momentum after such a loss followed by two Sundays without full-on balling?
- Certainly wily old QB Zac Ritchie, has thrown more pigskins than an abattoir over the years, should have no problems getting himself back in to the game. Ritchie has amassed over 10,000 yards and 140 TDs as an Exile.
- Gabriel Quartey, a product of Kent’s superb Juniors set-up is a threat to any team in the ground game. Across seven games so far Quartey has racked up over 700yds and eight scores.
- Defensively, linebacker Joe Alexis is at 70+ stops on the season and rapidly chasing down a number of club tackling records.
- In the secondary Jay Henderson leads the team with seven interceptions, including one that he took to the house in week ten against the Saints.
What do they have to say about one another?
“Kent are a strong outfit and have a very effective junior/youth programme feeding into their seniors.
If we play to our full ability we have a good chance to take the victory. The players will need to limit errors, especially at key times in the game.
In two of our losses this season we have outgained the opposition by over 100 yards, but have failed to convert this into enough points.”
“We know that we’ve played 3 times in the past, splitting the series in 2012, and then defeat in the play-offs in 2013.
It’s going to be a hard game, the film shows they are well drilled and cohesive. Their QB is a threat when moving out of the pocket, so containing him will be the key for the defence. Offensively the key for us will be finishing our opportunities, getting points when we’ve got ourselves in a position to do so.
We also know they have found some form recently, so it will be a tough game, and one that may define our season, so we’re going in well prepared and ready for a battle of attrition once again.
And what do we think?
Well, either way, it’s not like our prediction can go any worse than it did last week! (Doncaster, we believed in you! You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join th.. oops!)
It’s a toughie to pick, and it’s likely to be a toughie on the field too. In theory Exiles are the stronger on paper, having twice dispatched a Thunder side that defeated the Thrashers… However, there’s been a lot of game time for the Solent boys since that week five loss, and even if their impressive showing against Bury was followed by a less than convincing win over the winless Hertfordshire Cheetahs, they’ve proven to have the greater firepower of these two teams, consistently outscoring the Exiles.
It’s plausible to worry that the Solent side doesn’t travel well as they’re only .500 away from home this season, but with the Exiles surrendering 40+ points the last time them look the field, we’re thinking the Thrasher’s offensive momentum should allow them to hold a narrow edge in the scoring throughout this match up.
Further, if the Thrashers lose this then their playoff prospects could well be out of their control.
Kent Exiles 28-32 Solent Thrashers