With the Titans vs Wildcats cancelled due to the late schedule changes, and Sussex withdrawing from the league, we are left with four games this weekend. There is still bound to be talent in abundance though!
Under 19s Week Nine Previews
By Alex McLachlan
East Kilbride Pirates vs Merseyside Nighthawks
This game sees two sides riding waves of success clashing in Scotland as the East Kilbride Pirates face the Merseyside Nighthawks. The Nighthawks will hope to have greater success against the Pirates as they did against their previous Scottish opponents, whilst EKP will look to extend their winning streak against a talented side.
East Kilbride will be confident coming into the fixture, having comfortably beaten two of the toughest teams in the Northern Division in their first two matches of the season. A wonderfully balanced outfit, the Pirates are strong in all three phases of the game.
On offence, the pass game has proven a force to be reckoned with, with Quarterback Sam Montgomerie amassing eight passing touchdowns in two games. The young Scot has favoured targets Fraser McDonald and Struan Bailey, who each caught multiple touchdowns in their last game. That being said, Head Coach Matthew Davies says that the Scottish outfit will likely be looking to lean on the run game a more heavily, perhaps showing a level of respect for the Nighthawks secondary.
On defence, meanwhile, the Pirates have always shown a level of class uncommon in the Junior league. However, Coach Davies wants even more consistent tackling in the early part of the game, which was more lax against the Wildcats than East Kilbride have become accustomed to.
The Nighthawks will not be pushovers, however. They returned to winning ways the past weekend, with a statement victory against the Nottingham Caesars, putting 28 points on a team that’s defence became notorious in 2017. They will look to continue relying on their talented playmakers, especially their LJMU products, to make the difference.
The connection between QB Jensen Fairhurst and Receiver Rob Welti has proven potent recently, and could stretch the Pirates over the top. Failing this, the Liverpool outfit will likely lean on Jacob ‘JD’ Diaba to pound the rock on the ground. Head Coach Merrick recognises that his side are likely the underdogs, but says that his outfit thrives off this status and will simply look to enjoy their day out playing ‘ball.
This game could provide crucial in determining how this year’s Northern Division plays out. Will East Kilbride continue their dominance, or can Merseyside’s emergence continue on?
London Blitz vs Hertfordshire Cheetahs
The Hertfordshire Cheetahs kick off their 2018 campaign this week against the reigning National Champions the London Blitz. The Blitz have started this campaign strong too, going undefeated in their first two games, and will prove a tough challenge for the Cheetahs.
Despite their undefeated start, the Blitz are not resting on their laurels coming into this game. They recognise Hertfordshire’s strength (indeed the Cheetahs were singled out as a team to prepare for in their division), and so will be aware that they have to be on top of their game if they are to get the result they desire.
The Bliz are looking to their trenches to provide the difference, with a pair of stalwart defensive linemen in Malachi Jameson and Joseph Hurley looking to shut down the Cheetahs’ run game, as well as applying pressure to Cheetahs’ QB Liam MacGovern. On offence, meanwhile, the Blitz have shown a lot of trust in young Quarterback Marco Livi. Despite his diminutive frame, the young gunslinger is expected to push the ball downfield and challenge the Cheetahs’ secondary.
Such a strategy could play into Hertfordshire’s strengths, however. With a defence predicated on all around solid technique, the Cheetahs are looking to be hard to break down.
This is especially true in the passing game, where safety Jack Preece, as well as GB and Hertfordshire Hurricanes DB Johanne Remigio, will look to nullify Blitz playmakers such as Leonardo Sophoclis.
On offence, meanwhile, Coach Alex Halms is looking for discipline from his young ‘ballers, emphasising that they don’t want to beat themselves. Look for a rookie corps of receivers led by TE phenom Luke Verney to challenge the Blitz beyond the level that their defensive linemen can have an impact.
An ace up the Cheetahs’ sleeve could be their special teams. The much-overlooked facet of the game has become a focus for the Cheetahs in the offseason and could tip the balance in the Hertfordshire team’s favour.
This game will provide the biggest test yet for the reigning champs, and will show us if they really are as deadly as they seem. Meanwhile, will Hertfordshire’s rise to prominence stutter, or take a great leap this weekend? Regardless, a fascinating matchup is in store.
Thames Valley Tigers vs London Warriors
The Warriors have another chance to show their prowess this weekend as they come up against a struggling Thames Valley Tigers side.
The Warriors come into this game looking to bounce back after their second loss of the season, against the Solent Seahawks. However, the newly reformed Warriors side have shown to have considerably better luck against those teams that have newly entered the league, with a strong 20-6 win over the Cobham Cougars earlier in the season. They will look to star QB Mathew John to rack up some points against a Tigers side which has struggled as of late in keeping their opposition out of the end zone.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are looking forward eagerly, despite the challenges of earlier in the season. With a recent increase in numbers, Head Coach Phil Jones is hoping to shed their image of a plucky, tough team with barely enough players to fill the squad (or even the pitch at times!) and continue to grow. The Tigers are looking to post their first points of the league campaign this week, and are sure to come out of the gates hard, before fatigue takes hold in their smaller squad.
Birmingham Lions vs Nottingham Caesars
By Ryan Duff
After both beginning their seasons in less than ideal fashion, the Nottingham Caesars to travel to
Birmingham, where both teams will fight for their first win of the season.
The Caesars will look to rebound from a second-half collapse against the Merseyside Nighthawks
which saw them unceremoniously surrender a 14-0 lead to fall 28-14 to a strong Merseyside squad.
In Sunday’s game, Nottingham will hope to prove their first-half performance better reflect their
ability than that of the second half, with dual-threat stand-in QB Paul Watson trying to exploit whatever weakness he can find in a tough Birmingham Defence. Meanwhile, the Caesars’ talented secondary will try to limit a Birmingham spread-passing attack which proved deadly in their undefeated regular season run last season.
The Lions too come into this week with something to prove, after getting blown out 38-12 against an
EKP side which rotated its entire roster over the course of the game. The Birmingham side is still one
to be feared however, with its high-powered offence taking it to a Plate title last season.
In fact, little should be read into this scoreline by opposing teams, after EKPs 42-14 win over an impressively strong Wildcats team last week really put this result into perspective. Expect for Birmingham to look for big plays from WR Ben Murphy in what could be a high scoring affair.