We have ourselves some playoff football! Well, at least, we have seven of the eight slated games in the first round of the Division Two post-season. In time-honoured tradition, we invite the twelve conference correspondents to make their picks, with the addition of Gareth to ensure there are no ties in the voting…
#1 Aberdeen Roughnecks vs #8 Furness Phantoms
It was a nervous wait for the Roughnecks in Week Fifteen, avidly trawling twitter for updates on the Bulls/Surge game taking place in the south to see if the Roughnecks, along with locking up their first conference crown, would also secure the #1 seed in the North.
With a Surge win, the Bulls tumbled off the top spot and Aberdeen now sit pretty as the only perfect team in the Northern half of Division Two, ensuring a daunting trip north of the wall for any of the six English postseason contenders that may be drawn to face them!
First up will be the Furness Phantoms, who secured their postseason credentials in Week Sixteen with a nice 44-6 win over the Sentinels. Indeed, with an offence that’s boasted more than forty points in each of their four wins this summer, it’d be easy to think of the Phantoms as a spookily capable team, considering they’re coming in as the lowest seed…
However, their big wins contrast sharping with some fairly hefty losses: Furness had an average scoreline of 6-39 when facing other playoff-bound opponents this year - Halton and Chester.
All that said, even though they’re perfect on paper it’s not like the Roughnecks haven’t had their scares this season - including a single-score win over the Hunters in Week Five.
It’s a top vs bottom fixture - but how have both the Britball Nation and Team DC picked this one?
#2 Chester Romans vs #7 Lincolnshire Bombers
A team that’s topped the Power Rankings for a fair chunk of the season faces an outfit that didn’t see a single notch in the W column until the latter part of the year… and yet expectations are this is going to be far from the one-sided affairs the Romans got all too used to this year!
Division Two’s dark horses, the Bombers may have started their year 0-4 with two losses to third and fourth seeds Staffordshire and Birmingham respectively, but particularly in their second outings against each of this outfits they made it apparent they were a much better then their WLT implied, taking both meetings right down to the wire.
They followed up with four straight wins over Knottingley and Crewe to punch their postseason ticket in style with a #50Burger against the Raiders in their final fixture of the year.
Of course, the Romans are no slouches this season. They may not have finished the year perfect - a 6-6 tie with the Spartans the lone blemish on their record, but at points this season they’ve looked utterly unstoppable - not conceding a single score until their fifth game of the year!
Given both team’s propensity for finding paydirt I’m hoping for something of a shootout here… But who to the polls have emerging victorious?
#3 Staffordshire Surge vs #6 Dumfries Hunters
The Hunters head south of the wall to take on a Surge side that have been amongst the favourites for promotion for much of the year.
Though it required nailbiting final fixture against the Bulls to seal the deal, the Surge locked up what was probably the most hotly contested conference crown in the tier with their Southern-Northern title for 2018. They’ve proven they can both win big, and win tough.
Meanwhile, the young Hunters programme have quietly put together their best season to date, overturning a Day One one-point loss to Clyde Valley to best the Blackhawks convincingly in the next two meetings and earn their first postseason adventure.
They’re definitely coming into this one as underdogs, but crucially they’ll also be hitting the playoffs fresh as a daisy (thistle?) with two of their last three outings being walkover wins over the now-departed Trojans. While the Surge were bloodying themselves in tough contests against the Bulls, the Hunters have had time to heal up and put in weeks of preparation…
Do our pollsters think it’ll be enough?
#4 Birmingham Bulls vs #5 Halton Spartans
Fourth seed versus fifth always seems to produce the most interesting matchups and this one should be no exception!
Both teams come into the game with only a single loss on the year - the Spartans’ tie with the Romans seeing them slip below the Bulls in the seeding and unfortunately costing them the potential of a home berth at their swanky stadium for at least some of the postseason.
Instead, they now travel south to take on a Bulls side that held the top spot in this year’s Power Rankings for five weeks this season, and were many’s preseason favourites to bounce right back up into Division One after relegation last year.
Halton haven’t lost a game since Week Three, and with the excitement of their first postseason trip and a potential European adventure to look forward to… Could this be enough to carry them to victory against one of Britball’s proudest and longstanding programmes?
#1 South Wales Warriors vs #8 Worcester Black Knights
Disappointingly, the Black Knights have been forced to withdraw from this fixture due to concerns of player safety - a number of key injuries in their final fixture of the year versus the Raptors leaving them lacking the players to compete in what would have been the young programme’s first postseason outing.
It’s worth noting that Worcestershire have boasted a large and competitive roster throughout this season, and it’s only the compounding of a number of factors that has lead to this otherwise very healthy Division Two outfit feeling they had no other choice but to withdraw from this game.
South Wales progress to the Semi-Finals and will await another contender to make the trip to Llanharan.
#2 London Blitz B vs #7 Norwich Devils
It’s an unfortunate penchant of the Division Two postseason that all too often we see these intra-conference rivalries echoed in the postseason - with only a very limited pool of conferences to draw from, it’s rare we’re lucky enough to have a slate of games such as we have in the North where every matchup is shiny and new!
Even more unfortunate on this occasion is that there’s only a week separating these conference rivals from their last meeting… And you can top off the sundae of ill-fate with the cherry that that meeting ended up being a really rather one-sided affair - the London Blitz Bs taking the game 64-14 with a dominant second-half performance.
Credit where it’s due, the Devils have put in sterling work this year, their first back in the league. In a short amount of time they’ve rebuilt from the ground up to boast a well-run and well-resourced team that’s turned a lot of heads this season. We were lucky enough to spend a bit of time with them in the preseason, and if they can continue to build on what they’ve put in place? Expect this to be the first of many postseason trips for the East Anglian outfit!
However, overcoming a 50 pt deficit with a one-week turnaround, and on the other team’s turf? That’s a big ask.
How many of the pollsters, within DC and without, see them pulling it off?
#3 Hertfordshire Cheetahs vs #6 Ipswich Cardinals
The Cheetahs outpaced the Dreadnoughts to the SFC 2 South crown with a crucial victory to round out their campaign, finding a way around and over what had proven to be the toughest D in the conference.
The shutout win represented a big turnaround for a Herts team that’d looked outmuscled when they travelled to the Dreadnoughts a mere fortnight before – particularly for the Cheetahs’ underrated defence which put in a season-defining performance, holding their south coast crown-contenders to a mere 139 yards of offence!
In truth, the Cheetahs D has been in fine form all year, with four shutouts on the year, and only allowing more than a score in a single game. They were, however, overshadowed by an offence that’s has looked strong all year, including a mercy-clock-era record of 110 points in a single game against Hastings in Week Nine. Workhorse back, Adam Adeniji, has had simply crazy numbers this summer, including rounding out the regular season with 205 yards against the vaunted Pompey D!
Herts Head Coach, Craig Barnes, shared:
“The wonderful performance against Portsmouth on the 29th of July seems a long time ago now. Defensively that has to be our best day, we restricted the Dreadnought to 27 yards rushing, a real achievement by our players.
That is behind us now, and we look forward to our quarter-final against Ipswich. […] …we haven’t conceded a point at home this season and we have scored over 340 points ourselves. So perhaps we can put on a show against such a powerful opponent. I am looking for my team to show similar strength to our previous game, and hope that’s enough.”
The Cheetahs come into this fixture clear favourites on paper, as while the Cardinals may only be a game behind in terms of competitive record, their 193 points scored and 168 conceded pales in comparison to Herts’ 342 for, 47 against.
The numbers don’t lie, and the reality is the Cardinals have been a single score away from defeat on four occasions this year – a lucky pass or thrown flag here and there away from a much less impressive 2-6 season! However, you can also argue a team learns more from a close win than a easy one, and so what we have with the Cardinals are a tough, never-say-die outfit, that have impressed with their resilience this season, even if they’ve not been setting the scoreboard on fire.
Will it be the pacey, record-breaking Cheetahs, or resilient strong and steady Cardinals that progress to the next round of the postseason?
#4 Portsmouth Dreadnoughts vs #5 Torbay Trojans
And the Four versus Five showdown doesn’t disappoint once again, as we see two strong south coast sides go head to head for the
first time first time in quite some time!
For Portsmouth, while they’ll be frustrated to have missed out on a conference title for a second-straight season, they’ve proven their strong 2017 campaign was no fluke – they’ve featured in the Power Rankings all season long, including more top-three placements than any other programme, so will be eager to see if they can add more notches onto the postseason tally that started with a Round One win over the Cornish Sharks last season.
Centred around a dominant defence that boasted five shutouts this summer, Portsmouth have lost just a single home fixture in the past two seasons… A daunting prospect for a Torbay team making their first postseason appearance since returning to league action!
Dreadnoughts Head Coach, Luke Head-Rapson, shared:
“Finishing the season 7-1 is a tremendous achievement and we are extremely pleased to be competing in the playoffs again this year. Torbay will be one of our toughest opponents to date, with a very strong defence and powerful run game we’ll have to be on top form to walk away from the game with a win.
We’ll be counting on improved execution in all three phases of the game, and certainly Torbay will be looking to deliver their best performance at this crucial time. It should be a great game and we look forward to seeing some of the best the West division has to offer.”
Yes, one of the big surprises of 2018, the Torbay Trojans had won a combined three games in their last three seasons, finishing dead last in the West in their two prior campaigns.
Roll on 2018 however, and changes behind the scenes have seen the club attracting ballers both veteran and fresh, and for much of the year looked worthy rivals with South Wales for the Western Crown.
Perhaps the biggest problem for the Trojans coming into this game might be their ability to travel in strength. They followed up a narrow loss to the Warriors in Torbay in Week Twelve with a one-sided 42-0 drubbing when they took to the road only two weeks later. The Trojans have succeeded where many a team have failed, in finally managing to collect much of the region’s football talent together on one roster… But the question remains whether they can put said talent on the field of play when it counts most – in the playoffs!