Game of the Week – BAFANL 2016 Week 14: Tamworth @ Merseyside

Tamworth Phoenix @ Merseyside Nighthawks

We’re headed to the Premiership North this Sunday to take a look at what we were expecting to be the first of a pair of division deciding match ups between two undefeated programmes…

But then those selfish Sheffield Predators had to go and ruin it and find themselves a 29-28 victory. #DamnYou

Even so, that only goes a little way to taking the sheen off this match up, as thanks to the rest of the Prem North being a bit hit and miss this season, both Merseyside and Tamworth have already guaranteed playoff football for themselves, it just means that now if the Nighthawks want to do the previously-thought-impossible and snag a Premiership title in their first trip to the top tier? They’ll more than likely need to do the double over Tamworth rather than splitting and edging the overall head to head.

Unless of course the Sheffield Predators wanna throw another spanner in the works in Week Sixteen?

The Nighthawks and Predators gave us one of the most exciting games of #Britball2016 in Week 12 Image shared via facebook.com/merseysidenighthawks
The Nighthawks and Predators gave us one of the most exciting games of #Britball2016 in Week 12
Image shared via facebook.com/merseysidenighthawks

Who are they?

The Tamworth Phoenix have spent the last few seasons as the ‘nearly boys’ of the Premiership, and then Premiership North. Since the Premiership split, the Phoenix must have worried they were stuck in an ‘Edge of Tomorrow’-esque time loop as they narrowly lost out to the East Kilbride Pirates for the Premiership North Crown two years in a row, before entering playoffs and losing out to the London Warriors (on their way to back-to-back National Championships) in the semi-finals both years as well.

When the Tamworth side headed north of the border in Week Four, there surely must have been some sense of history repeating itself once again… That is until the game kicked off and suddenly the resurgent Phoenix found themselves utterly dominating their long-time rivals, sinking the Pirates to the tune of a 55-7 scuppering!

The midlands team must have surely felt this was finally their year?

Indeed, so far on the season the Phoenix have posted up five fifty-burgers in seven games and hold an average margin of victory of 42 points (which would have been 50 points if EKP hadn’t finally found form and held Tamworth to a narrow 2 point margin of victory in week nine!).

With the upstart Predators clipping the Nighthawks’ wings in Week Twelve the Tamworth side must almost be able to taste the conference crown on their lips…

However, battered but not broken by their shock final second loss to the Predators, the Merseyside Nighthawks have been one of the revelations of #Britball2016.

With their season not getting underway until Week Five the ‘Hawks merely raised a few eyebrows when they opened up their time in the top tier with a 52-7 win over Sheffield. When they followed this with a comfortable win over the Lancashire Wolverines who were coming in off the back of a very strong 2015 campaign? They turned heads. And when they nearly put a fifty-burger on the reigning Premiership North champions, the Pirates, they dropped jaws and had DC prediction writers pinching themselves to make sure this was reality.

The ‘Hawks may be having one of the greatest rookie seasons in the Premiership of all time, even counting the obvious slip up last weekend when, probably through a mixture of over-confidence on their own part and some #NeverSayDie ballin’ from the Predators, the Nighthawks allowed Sheffield to overturn a 45 point margin of victory in the two teams’ previous match up.

The 2014 Coach of the Year (and surely a favourite for another nom this season?), Head Coach Craig Pennington seems to be building something rather special in scouseland, and this weekend has the opportunity to lead his side to unimagined heights.

The Phoenix #ProjectHAVOC have been creating turnovers galore this seasons Image shared via facebook.com/tamworthphoenix, photography by Nick Mortimer Photos: http://bit.ly/29TR1NU
The Phoenix #ProjectHAVOC have been creating turnovers galore this seasons
Image shared via facebook.com/tamworthphoenix, photography by Nick Mortimer Photos: http://bit.ly/29TR1NU

When last they met…

Best as we can tell, these two teams have never met competitively before this weekend – partly thanks to the League’s propensity to throw Tamworth around the different regional conferences like a hot potato.

**EDIT**

It’s been pointed out to us that the sides have indeed met previously, and upon further investigation we can note that the two teams in fact met in the Division Two Quarter Finals in 2008. Despite their lower seeding, the Phoenix emerged 12-0 victors over the Nighthawks. Indeed, they would follow this victory with a 16-10 dispatching of their previously undefeated conference rivals, the Nottingham Caesars (9-0-1), on their way to the Division Two Finals… Where their season met an inglorious end against the rising star that was the London Cobras (now multi-National-Championship-winning Warriors).

 

What to watch out for:

  • Tamworth were tight-lipped about who their playmakers were, their focus on their #PHamily mentality. Of course, this can’t hide the fact that 20 of their 56-man active roster have GB experience at either a student or senior level and includes names that any fan of Uniball will be familiar with – such as Will Hobbs, Marcus ‘Patches’ Boswell, Adam Hope, Chris Peel, Will Stone to name but a few.
  • The Phoenix are rather spoilt for choice under centre, with GB Lions QB and National Championship winner with the London Warriors Brad Thompson alongside Patrick Daley (Nottingham Outlaws) allowing the Phoenix to field a dynamic dual-threat offence.
  • The firebirds took to the air last weekend with wideout Ben Burslem setting club history by hauling in five TDs against the Wolverines.
  • Defensively the Phoenix are yet to allow more than two scores in any fixture so far this season… in fact, it’s possible their D has scored more points than it’s conceded up to this point in the year! Director of Performance and Defensive Coordinator Jason Scott was announced as a BAFCA Vice President earlier this season, and certainly his #ProjectHAVOC defence has been a force to be reckoned with. With a huge spread of talent the Phoenix D have been turnover machines – defensive back Oli Campbell was the source of multiple turnovers last weekend, including a pick six.
  • Meanwhile, Merseyside might lack as many household names as the Phoenix, but until week twelve they had been proving just as dominant.
  • Built around a core of players from the LJMU Fury Uniball team, many of the Merseyside players have won something like 26 of their last 29 games!
  • Fury alum Ben Robinson is finding great success in his first year under centre in Coach Joe Black’s offence, developing a strong connection with his receiver corps that includes the likes of Alex Eager, Liam Holebrook and Harry Routledge – all of whom are dangerous when given any kind of space.
  • The ground game utilises a 1-2 punch of RBs Laurent Tshimanga and Daishawn Honohan, who at least until their outing against the Predators a fortnight ago had proven adept at allowing the Nighthawks to control the clock.
  • Merseyside have a young defence, but with a good spread of talent across all positions. Captain Mark Houghton has been a menace at LB, and their Defensive Ends Paul Cowan and Greg Williams have the pace to chase down ball carrier and make plays in the backfield.

 

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Image shared via facebook.com/merseysidenighthawks
Image shared via facebook.com/merseysidenighthawks

What do they have to say about one another?

 

Martin Hilton, Head Coach Tamworth Phoenix:

“We know we’ll be facing a very well drilled team with lots of playmakers on Offense, and a Defence that has constantly put their team in good positions. We’re under no illusions that we face a strong opponent and one that is more than capable of getting a result on Sunday. We have to be ready to put in the work to stop them and get the result we want.”

 

Craig Pennington, Head Coach Merseyside Nighthawks:

“We’re aiming to bounce right back from our last game, but we know that Tamworth can be explosive on both sides of the ball. Tamworth are very tight on defence, but they’ve also put up more points than any other team in the country, bar the Warriors, and we have not ignored that. We’ve planned accordingly and we’re hoping to end the season at home on a high.”

 

Image shared via facebook.com/tamworthphoenix, photography by Nick Mortimer Photos: http://bit.ly/29TR1NU
Image shared via facebook.com/tamworthphoenix, photography by Nick Mortimer Photos: http://bit.ly/29TR1NU

And what do we think?

This should be some quality northern balling and hopefully the most competitive game of season for both programmes. Even though they’ve both secured postseason berths, there’s still everything to play for – for the Phoenix the conference crown that has continued to elude them, while for the Nighthawks an opportunity to continue to make Britball history in their inaugural season in the Premiership!

If you write off the ‘Hawks week twelve loss as a blip, both teams have shown remarkable similarities across the season – tight D, dominant O.

The Phoenix have proven to have the greater firepower, however in the two team’s most recent common opponent – the East Kilbride Pirates – the Nighthawks did a much neater job of keeping the Pirates in check – the first time the premier Scottish programme has gone without an offensive touchdown in a regular season game since… Umm, we might need to ask Nessie for an answer to that one!

For the sake of Brtiball, we’d love to see the Nighthawks come away with this one – keeping the premiership north competitive right down to the wire. However, the newcomers to the Prem haven’t been quite as consistent as the Phoenix have managed this season, so we’ll give the edge to the Tamworth team, who even with a win here still won’t quite have secured their first Premiership North title.

 

Merseyside Nighthawks 28-35 Tamworth Phoenix

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Nick

Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1