With the third week of fixtures, the Junior league is finally starting to heat up! Five games this weekend, with some high-quality matchups, and even a potential title decider, on the cards.
Birmingham Lions vs East Kilbride Pirates
By Alex McLachlan
In what is perhaps the most hotly anticipated match of the weekend, last year’s #2 and #3 teams face off, with the East Kilbride Pirates playing the Birmingham Lions. With the game being played at a neutral venue, this will be a true, unbiased test, and will potentially provide an early determinant of who will represent the North in the Britbowl.
East Kilbride are coming into this fixture with a chip on their shoulder, and a hunger that has been growing since last year’s Britbowl loss. Their first chance at satiating that hunger will come as they attempt to take the scalp of the Birmingham Lions, who they undoubtedly see as their greatest challenger for the Northern Crown. The Pirates could be ones to watch offensively with season. Whilst last year was strong, Coach Matthew Davies appears to believe that they will be stronger still, with ALL-DC Quarterback Sam Montgomerie being touted as having used his offseason to great effect. Couple this with a receiver corps that Davies calls ‘the standout unit’ and this team could prove unstoppable. Defensively, meanwhile, the Pirates have had a lot of graduations, leaving them as a much more youthful unit. Despite this, the team has come core players to build around, such as Callum Ferguson. All in all, the team looks incredibly strong.
Meanwhile, the men from Birmingham have proven tight-lipped in advance of the game. Instead, they have proven pragmatic as always, simply suggesting that they’re excited to see what happens, to give them a view of areas where they need to improve. It will be interesting to track how a revamped offence will look, with an entirely new backfield. The battle for starting quarterback has seemingly proven difficult in the preseason, so this tough matchup is sure to draw a leader out of the pack. On defence, meanwhile, despite a lot of turnover, the Lions retain core piece Michael Wathen, who will look to lead by example on Sunday, in an attempt to slow down Montgomerie. A potential X-factor of this game could be Lions running back Yomi Olajide. A newcomer to the game this September, Olajide has honed his craft with the Lions University outfit the past nine months. Bringing a truly rare blend of strength and speed, could Olajide find a way to have an impact similar to that of Aaron Mahoney-Jones against EKP in the Britbowl? Only time will tell.
As is suitably cliché, this matchup is too close to call. Both programmes have great lineage and even better coaching, and so are uniquely equipped to deal with the player turnover of Junior football, as well as coming out of the blocks firing. This game will offer an insight into the shape of the two programmes though, which could prove crucial for the rest of the season. This is certainly one we will keep a close eye on!
Sussex Thunder V London Blitz
By Bruin White
The reborn Sussex Thunder’s biggest challenge yet travels from the capital on Sunday as they host the national champion London Blitz.
Each team will feel momentum is on their side at the opening kickoff in Brighton this weekend after both teams enjoyed defensive shutouts in their preceding games. Sussex broke a negative streak with their 19-0 win over Thames Valley having gone 0-and-6 the last time they entered into league competition in 2016. On the other hand, the Blitz built on their Britbowl title from last year with a 22-0 win over the London Warriors.
Although many may immediately favour the Blitz side in this matchup, to call this game may prove a little more problematic.
A Blitz offence struggled to get things going last time they played, relying on their defence for two of three touchdowns scored. Contrarily, Sussex grabbed their three scores last week with runs from Isaac Dibi-Fofana and Ombaashi Grech-Cato. Both defences grabbed interceptions. Both defences forced fumbles. Statistically, the Thunder are more than comparable to the Blitz thus far.
However, the Blitz do have some star power on their sideline, including D-Lineman Malachi Jameson as well as stud Wide Receiver Leonardo Sophoclis – both of whom will look to make big plays on Sunday.
Sussex will want to keep the good times rolling, but the Blitz are not travelling to lose. This game is not a foregone conclusion.
Hertfordshire Cheetahs V London Warriors
By Bruin White
The London Warriors host the Hertfordshire Cheetahs in London this Sunday. The Warriors will be looking to redeem themselves from their last game’s shutout in Finsbury Park, whilst the Cheetahs will be hoping to start things off 1-0.
This Hertfordshire team has been playing together for a while now and have been able to develop a strong team bond. The well-organised roster which has proven playmakers, including Quarterback Liam MacGovern and former Buckinghamshire Wolves Safety Jack Preece, shouldn’t struggle to get things done on Sunday in the Cheetahs’ first test of 2018.
However, the home field should be a more comfortable setting for the Warriors to play to their potential than they’ve had up until now. Quarterback Matthew John struggled last outing against a stout Blitz defense on the road, though now has the opportunity to showcase his abilities better in more familiar surroundings. Likewise – despite a 22-0 shutout the Sunday before last – the Warriors’ defense showed strength, only giving up a single score in the game (the other two came when their offence was on the field). Consequently, it would be unjust to doubt proficiency in this young Warriors team under Coach Gerry Anderson who, arguably, haven’t had a fair chance to prove themselves just yet – having been faced with the national champions on the road in their first game back in league competition.
The result of this fixture will reveal a lot about both side’s capability in this division early in the season, and a win is vital to either team’s progress towards Britbowl.
Solent Seahawks vs Thames Valley Tigers
By Jack Stodel
This Sunday the Solent Seahawks face off against the makeshift Thames Valley Tigers in what could be one of the most uneven matchups we will see all season.
As a “well-prepared and well-organised unit”, Solent will be looking to roll over the Tigers and aim to prevent them from scoring any points. With home field advantage and a full gameday roster including the likes of GB WR Ben Thomas and All-Double Coverage u19 WR Tom Moore, Sunday could prove to be a long and painful endeavour for newly formed Thames Valley.
Solent back themselves for a spot in the playoffs and believe that with the help of players such as GB and Pre-Season Player to Watch Toby Naylor they can even make it all the way. First, though, they are looking to go 1-0 this weekend. However, if Thames Valley are able to pull together, work as one unit and provide a tough game for the Seahawks, they could just change Britbowl’s opinion and shock everyone into believing that they are serious competitors.
Manchester Titans Vs Merseyside Nighthawks
By Ryan Duff
This week, the Nighthawks travel to face a strong side Manchester with a lot to prove after their season opener.
The Manchester Titans entered the season among the frontrunners for the northern title – and perhaps Britbowl. With a potent offense lead by Ben Miles at QB and an experienced Defense known for its frightful pass rush spearheaded by Vonte Glinton, the Titans are undeniably a force to be reckoned with this season. Question marks have emerged, however, after a lacklustre performance – but only by their own high standards – against the Chester Romans, where their usually free-scoring offense was held to just 14 points. Of course, Manchester still came away with the win, and it remains to be seen whether this is indicative of Manchester weakness or Chester strength.
If nothing else, this game should help to answer that question
The Nighthawks, meanwhile, begin their season on the road after winning just one game last season. Despite lacking the credentials of their opposition and losing last season’s All-DC Wideout Sam Parks, there is no reason this talented Merseyside roster cannot provide the upset and topple the Titans to begin their season 1-0.