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.
It’s a stacked slate of fixtures in the largest tier of the University game, but the Leeds Gryphons vs Liverpool Raptors matchup caught our eye, as two teams more familiar with one another than many might realise meet to open their campaigns!
Let’s meet the teams:
It’s been an up-and-down few seasons for Leeds, who adopted their new moniker following a disappointing 15/16 season. With only one win to their name, dead bottom of the 2A North, the Celtics opted ‘enter the fold’ of their parent institutions’ sports brand, re-emerging in 2016/17 as the Gryphons.
With greater support and access to facilities, the impact appeared immediate as the Gryphons dominated through their first campaign – going from bottom to top as they went undefeated all the way to the Division Two North final, and earning promotion into the hotly contested 1A Yorkshire.
As is often the case, 17/18 saw Leeds struggle to bridge the gap in quality from one tier to the next – which is especially the case in what is widely considered the most talented conference in the tier.
Despite being competitive throughout their campaign, and even picking up a brace of wins that included a shock 6-0 victory over title-favourites Hallam, and a must-win triumph over relegation rivals LJMU, the Gryphons stay in the middle tier was ultimately a brief one.
However, despite the disappointment of relegation, the Gryphons feel they’re definitely still a team on the rise, as Club President Will Mckeown shared:
“Despite last year’s upset of relegation from Division One to Division Two, our current team is looking stronger than ever going into the 2018/19 season. With many of our experienced players diving into the world of Senior ball over the summer, there is noticeably more confidence and skill in certain positions that have been significantly weaker in previous seasons.
Building from last year, we have been able to recruit experienced coaches from various clubs around Leeds, as well as a number of ex-players becoming assistant coaches. This has allowed our Head Coach, Paul Matthews and Defensive coordinator, Steve Robeznieks to focus on their primary roles in the team.”
They enter their 2018/19 campaign off the back of a highly successful preseason, having tested themselves against both the 2A Borders’ York Centurions, and Division One’s Newcastle Raiders, and coming off on top in both outings!
Speaking with Head Coach Paul Matthews, he has high hopes for the team this season:
“The whole team, players and coaching staff alike, are excited ahead of Saturday’s season opener against the Raptors.
Pre-season preparation has gone well and to plan; still some niggles to iron out but after very strong showings in pre-season friendly wins against York Centurions and Newcastle Raiders I’m hoping for big things this weekend and the rest of the season.
Defence is looking more formidable than even the past few seasons where they’ve kept us in games, but the offence also looks refreshed and have been scoring points in both pre-season games and looked comfortable doing so.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, Mckeown emphasised the Gryphons know they’re in for one of their biggest challenges of the year, right out of the gates:
“Looking ahead to the game against Liverpool Raptors this Saturday, the expectation is that it will be one of our toughest games in what promises to be a competitive conference. After coming out on top in a nail-biting game against Liverpool in our undefeated 2016/17 season, we are expecting another solid performance from them – we’re very aware of their close links with the BAFA NL Prem North’s Merseyside Nighthawks, and the talent and quality coaching that gives them access to.”
Ones to Watch
The Raptors aren’t the only ones with links to the Nighthawks however, as Mckeown himself started for the ‘Hawks this past summer, alongside defensive powerhouse and all-round baller Sam Wood – eyes peeled for the blazing red of a Nighthawks helmet all across the field on Saturday evening!
Offensively, the connection to watch might well be Quarterback Harry Roberts and his favourite target, 6’4″ wideout Conor Moran.
Since joining the league in the 15/16 season, the Liverpool Raptors have been a team steadily on the rise.
While they turned few heads with their 1-7 debut in the 15/16 season, they proved far more competitive the following year – narrowly missing out on postseason football with a 3-3 record in their second season, pushing both Bangor and eventual champs, Leeds, close in both games.
Their upward trajectory continued into their third campaign, where they got their first taste of postseason action last year, following a highly competitive 5-2 season where they were the only team to really make the rampant Manchester Tyrants break a sweat.
Come playoffs they were ultimately outpaced by an on-form Coventry Jets, but heading into 18/19 and the Raptors are hankering after another shot at postseason action, if not promotion to the next rung up.
Club President Chris Dadswell shared:
“We were ultimately disappointed that we didn’t manage to win the conference and progress further in the playoffs, but we did make the playoffs for the first time in the history of our programme in only our third year.
We were beaten by the eventual conference champs, but bounced back by beating a pair of Division One teams in our offseason fixtures so I’d say it was a successful year for us, just not quite as successful as we’d first hoped.
We expect to challenge for the conference title and make a playoff run again this year. ”
“Preparation this year has been difficult with the amount of transition we have had to deal with regards to senior players leaving and Rookies joining the team, but we have managed to fit in a scrimmage with both LJMU Fury and UCLan.”
Ones To Watch
Boasting a hefty roster, especially for a Division Two outfit, the Raptors certainly don’t lack for depth. They showed an ability to post up big point totals at times last year, so keep an eye out for running back James Sutherland leading the ground and pound, while Manchester Titans U19’s Quarterback Charlie Glover is a new addition to the roster to watch out for on Saturday!
When last they met…
The last BUCS League fixture between these two was back in 16/17, the Gryphons taking the game 6-15 on their way to an undefeated 2A North Title.
However, the two teams have met more recently, in the annual Christie Championships – a sports competition that runs between the universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.
With Manchester choosing not to field a team last year, the Raptors raised the Christie cup in 2018 with an 8-0 win over the Gryphons.
But who’s winning this one?
According to our Week One Power Rankings the Raptors should hold the edge, but with neither team having yet stepped out onto the gridiron we’ll ultimately learn an awful lot more about the shape of each programme through four quarters of competition on Saturday.
Still, who do our BUCS office have pencilled in as taking the win away from this one?
Predictions for all BUCS fixtures are also incoming, they’ll just be in a simpler, pick’em style format this season.