In line with feedback, we’re changing things up a bit this year in how we do our Uniball predictions. One thing we continue to receive feedback on is the inconsistency of the depth and quality of predictions between one conference and the next, due to the available time and ability of the writers that cover each group of teams, and how much information is made available to them.
To that end we’re going to shake things up this year and rather than attempting to cover all games with as much detail as possible with the resources available, we’re instead going to focus on particular stand out ‘Games of the Week’ – looking more closely at anywhere between one to three games, spread across the tiers, focusing on those games that perhaps looks particularly tasty and we can go into greater detail in the coverage of.
Sheffield Hallam Warriors vs UCLan Rams
by Nick Wilson-Town
This week’s Division One game of the week hails from the 1A Yorkshire/Lancashire, with a classic ‘Roses’ clash between two teams always considered favourites to contest crowns.
Both the UCLan Rams and Sheffield Hallam Warriors very nearly came into this one undefeated, but a one-score loss for the Rams against the Sabres last week means the Lancashire outfit will be eager to return to winning ways – easier said than done against a Warriors team that’s looking more and more like the promotion contenders we’ve come to expect them to be each year.
Let’s get to know these two teams a bit better:
Sheffield Hallam Warriors
Though the programme itself is still a ‘teenager’, entering its fifteenth competitive season this winter, the roots of the Warriors go deep – back to the multi-institution Sheffield Zulus. However, when the Zulus folded in 1997, only the University of Sheffield decided to continue competing in the sport – spawning the Sheffield Sabres. Hallam would have to wait until 2002 before a small group of players sought to establish their own team, and following an impressive inaugural recruitment drive kicked off their time in the British College American Football League (BCAFL) in 2003/4 – conveniently playing their first fixture against local rivals, the Sabres.
The narrow defeat for the new Warriors outfit would be the start of one of the great rivalries of the British University game, with the two teams competing year in year out in an annual ‘Steel Bowl’ to see who has the bragging rights in England’s Steel City.
They won their first conference crown in just their second season, with a 6-1-1 record to top the North Western Division in 2004/5, and over the years steadily emerged as a consistently competitive outfit in their region.
When Coach Richard Batty took on the Head Coaching role, initially in partnership with Coach Paul Wake who’d go on to lead Leeds Met in their first season, it was the beginning of over a decade of strong, consistent leadership at the programme – the team posting just a single losing record during Coach ‘Grizz’ Batty’s decade at the helm.
Following the introduction of the BUCS tiers, Hallam were the first team to earn promotion to the Premiership North with an undefeated season in 14/15, frustratingly followed by a winless one in 15/16, as graduations left the Yorkshire outfit unprepared for the pace of the Prem North.
As such, Hallam played their first middle tier football in 16/17, and it looked as though the Sheffield side might shoot right back up to the top tier after an impressive campaign in a hotly-contested 1A Yorkshire, that reignited a rivalry with this week’s opponent, the Rams.
The Rams were the only side to best an unstoppable-looking Hallam during the regular season, though the Warriors would break the series tie with a postseason win – before eventually falling out of the playoffs with a shock loss to a gotten-hot Carnegie on their way to a surprise surge to promotion.
These three meetings with the Rams in 16/17, however, would kickstart a strong rivalry that’s only grown since.
With Coach Batty stepping away from the Head Coach role at the end of the 16/17 season (though not able to stay away long, joining new Head Coach Tom Kharchi‘s staff as Defensive Coordinator) the Warriors had a mixed bag of a season in 17/18 – looking every bit the potential promotion contender through the first half of the season, before hitting a second-half slump in the new year – a shock loss to the previously winless Leeds Gryphons immediately setting alarm bells ringing that something was awry at a team that had breezed to a 4-0 start to their season!
They’d limp into playoffs on the back of a four-game losing streak, with the fixture versus top-seeded Notts not taking place due to weather.
Roll on 18/19 and the question had to be asked: What sort of Warriors would we be seeing this season? The 4-0 Sheffield side from the first half of their previous season, or the woeful Warriors that had posted up only 19 points in four fixtures during the second half?
Those questions now seem to have been answered, as Head Coach Tom Kharchi emphasised:
“The season has gone as well as I could have hoped so far. Sitting with three wins and no losses is a great feeling and a testament to all the hard work the coaching staff and the team have put into this season. This conference seems to be competitive and plays to a good standard year on year meaning we have to approach every game with great focus and never underestimate any team.
We are very fortunate year on year to have a great recruitment, with amazing facilities here at Hallam, which means we manage to find studs out of nowhere.”
Hallam opened with a nice win over local rivals, the Sabres, and followed that up with impressive outings against Manchester and LJMU, where the Warriors not only put up big numbers of their own, but have notably kept opposition offences in check.
Indeed, team President Ewan Chisholm shared that the defence has been a key to the Warriors early success so far:
“We’ve seen improving performances each game on both sides of the ball, but the standout for us so far has been the defence, only conceding 24 points through three games, forcing turnovers and setting the tone for each game.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, the Warriors say they’re staying grounded. Though the BUCS tables may say differently after the voiding debacle at the end of the last season, on the field at least the Rams are the defending champs in this conference and though Hallam are coming in riding a three-game win streak, they’re not taking anything for granted, as Coach Kharchi shared:
“This fixture is no different to any other. It doesn’t matter how many wins we have or losses we could have. Each game we must be isolated and give its own focus and respect.
UCLan have proven themselves to be a strong team each season and have some links with Lancaster and Manchester Titans. So we know they have some players that we will have to focus on. Week on week it’s the same ritual for every game week.
We review, plan, prepare, scout, analyse and position ourselves to win. We have to know our opponents as well as we know ourselves. If we do this then come game day I can be comfortable to know we have done everything we can to be best placed to come off the field with a win.”
Ones to Watch
Though their host institution doesn’t currently offer sports scholarships for American Football, Coach Kharchi noted the Warriors have always done a fine job of recruiting outstanding athletes to the team:
“Somehow we manage to get real athletes that dominate on the field. This year the one stand out to me is Barron Abrahams one of our true rookies and starter at MLB. He literally flies all over the field and maybe one of the fastest athletes I have had the pleasure of having on the Hallam team. His passion and determination on every down is something every coach wants to see and it’s a real privilege to have him with the #TR1BE.”
On the other side of the football, both Head Coach and President highlighted the strong start to the season for the Offensive Line, particularly Haidar Hussain and Ahmet Karlik, and the receiving corps where Luka Fadrique and Dan Proctor have gotten their seasons off to fast starts, and longtime Uniball stud-under-centre, Luis ‘Dutch’ Stephenson, has made the transition to receiver, causing immediate concerns for opposing defences with his height, and vast experience of the game. The former Stirling Clansmen National Championship winning QB got his first receiving touchdown against the Tyrants in Week Four… though also got himself ejected out of that fixture for targeting. He’ll return to action this Sunday, having sat out the Warriors’ fixture versus LJMU.
In the annals of Uniball, the Rams are a decidedly young outfit! They debuted in the 12/13 season, and immediately impressed right out of the gates with a 5-3 record in their opening season!
Indeed, best as we can tell (we disappointingly don’t have access to records for the 13/14 season) the Rams have never yet suffered a losing campaign, and have seen postseason football for three straight campaigns coming into this one!
They took the 1A Yorkshire crown with an undefeated season in 2015/6, were the sole team to steal a regular-season win away from an unstoppable-looking Hallam in 16/17, and were, on the field at least, worthy winners of the 1A Yorkshire Conference Championship once again last year – before ‘unreported results’ put pay to their place atop the conference when their final victory of the season was cruelly voided by callous BUCS regs.
A disappointing postseason performance against the Sabres saw UCLan fall at the first hurdle, and the teams woes only appeared to worsen when Head Coach Sam Bloomfield shared he would be also be stepping away following the campaign.
As such, its been an offseason of change for the Rams, but as Team President Tom Narey noted, the team have done a great job of pulling together a strong start to their season:
“Considering we had a full change within the coaching staff – HC, Co-Ordinators and a handful of positional coaches it was always going to be a test, and as such overall I think we’ve done very well.
We have managed to recruit some real talent once again and feel we are developing into a very competitive squad all over the field.”
The Rams opened their year with three straight wins, the most impressive of which was a fourth-quarter comeback victory against the Fury:
“Our stand out moment of the season so far has to be the comeback win at home against Fury. Down by three scores inside the 4th quarter,with injuries cropping up frequently…
It was a great effort from all involved to get the W. We could have handed in the towel but the coaches believed, the players performed and it was a great game to be involved in.”
Much like the Warriors, the Rams are well aware they’re heading into one of their toughest matchups of the season, and so despite coming into this one off the back of a loss, Narey stressed preparation for this game has been the same as any other
“Hallam are always a tough opponent for us. They nailed us at home last year but we got the better of them at their place in the reverse fixture. We will prepare as always – plenty of film review; plenty of practice. The players understand the levels we ask of them to get the win, they bought into our philosophy and what strive for. It will be a battle on both sides of the ball but we will be ready.”
Ones to Watch
Though they saw a lot of change on the coaching roster, on the field the Rams have managed to retain the services of a number of their veterans coming into 18/19 – perhaps the most notable of which is all-round baller Adam Bamber who’ll come into the game with seven scores to his name already this season.
Coming out of the backfield, Anele Hlongwane has had a fast start to his year with five TDs through the opening four games, thanks to his hard-hitting north-south running.
Defensively, Narey noted things start at the top with the Rams’ veteran defensive captain:
“Our defence is led by fourth-year Linebacker and Captain Andy Townsend. His ability to read run and get down field is commendable. A top tackler for the Rams, he can always be looked at to make a big play.
In the secondary Dee Kay is a second-year corner who is really flourishing with two INTs this year and very few catches made on him. He’s also returned a few punts & kicks this year and is a real asset for the special teams too!”
When last they met…
The two teams split their series last season, with the Warriors taking the first meeting with an impressive 0-31 shutout, before the Rams turned the tables in the most recent meeting, winning 7-28.
In the past two seasons, Hallam hold a 3-2 lead in the series with their postseason win back in 16/17 giving them the edge.
But who’s winning this one?
Hallam are riding high, with three victories, the most recent two by very healthy margins!
Meanwhile, the Rams loss to the Sabres looks likely to send them one of two ways – will they bounce back all the stronger for a bit of adversity? Or has the wear and tear on their roster from five fixtures in six weekends taken its toll, and the Warriors will be a bridge too far?
Let us know your thoughts on who’s taking the W this weekend, and in the meantime we asked our BUCS office to make their pick of who they think have the edge – open the spoiler tab to reveal their choice!
Predictions for all BUCS fixtures are also incoming, they’ll just be in a simpler, pick’em style format this season.