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.
With a wealth of fixtures to pick from for our Game of the Week in Division Two, one matchup, in particular, stood out as having great potential to have a huge impact on the shape of the season, even this early in the year! The Edinburgh Predators, always amongst the contenders for a conference crown out of the 2a Borders, travel to the recently relegated Sunderland Spartans. Even in Week Three, you get the impression this is a matchup that could well have postseason ramifications!
Let’s meet the teams:
Founded ahead of the ’92-’93 season as the Kings, the Sunderland University outfit have had a chequered history in the University game. With only one winning-season through their first seven, the programme disappeared from the Uniball ranks in 1999, only eventually reappearing more than a decade later for the 2004/5 season.
Still, success was hard to come by for the outfit, who rebranded to the Spartans in 2008.
Crucially perhaps, the team had their strongest season in the programme’s history in 14/15 - right ahead of the BUCS split from two tiers to three, and a 6-1 record meant the Spartans found themselves playing Division One football in the ever-competitive 1A North.
The Spartans held their own for three seasons in this brutal conference, but hit hard by graduations ahead of the 17/18 season, a thin on the ground Spartans roster finally found themselves unable to keep pace, picking up just the single victory last season - though notably against the postseason-bound Mustangs!
Certainly, Team President Kyle Thirlwell prefers to reflect on the successes the Spartans had last season:
“We fought throughout the year with low numbers in a tough conference. Although we only managed one win our actions off the field raised £1154 for charity - something we are all very proud of.
We see this year as a rebuilding season after getting relegated in hope to make the Spartans victorious once more.”
And indeed, there does seem to be a great vibe of positivity around the team this year, who have every intent of challenging for playoffs, or even bouncing right back up into the middle tier!
“Our goals on the field is to challenge for playoffs, do our individual jobs, bond as a unit and get better week on week.
Off the field, we are aiming for an even bigger charitable effort to raise more money.”
Eager to test themselves, the Spartans preseason included a scrimmage against Division One’s Hull Sharks, where Head Coach Pete Nichol was overall happy with his team’s showing:
“We had a solid preseason with a friendly against our old conference rivals, the Hull Sharks. Considering the strength of their offence we certainly held our own and I’m excited to see what we can do in full competition.”
Looking ahead to their opening fixture, the Spartans focus in on their own performance:
“It may be the first game of the season, but ultimately for us game prep has remained the same as any other week - focusing on what we do best rather than changing what we do to fit the opponent. Out goal is to set the tone and make them adjust to us.”
Ones to Watch
The Spartans are keeping their cards very close to their chest when it comes to naming ballers we need to look our for, but both Head Coach and President both agreed the Spartans have some exciting new additions coming into the season, Coach Nichol noting:
“We have some exciting rookies to look out for on both sides of the ball, don’t want to give too much away.”
We guess we’ll have to wait and see who emerges for the Spartans, who’ll kick off their 18/19 season in new blue uniforms, in line with their AU rebrand!
Founded in 2003 as an expansion of the Edinburgh Wolves adult programme, the Predators have worn a number of names and faces over the years! They played their first league football as the Wolves in 04/05, before rebranding to the Timberwolves in 05/06. This name didn’t stick for long either, as they rebranded once more to the Napier Mavericks in 2007, with the Mavericks eventually splitting when BUCS single-institution rules saw the Mavericks divide to become the Edinburgh Napier Knights… And the Edinburgh Predators.
The two teams would become tough rivals, as the Predators were ever in the postseason-conversation, typically holding a slight edge over their Scottish-capital cousins. However, recent seasons have seen the Knights rise into supremacy, culminating in their promotion at the end of the 16/17 season, and leaving a frustrated Predators outfit chomping at the bit to similarly ascend to middle-tier football!
Amongst the favourites for the conference crown last season, the Predators were but a couple of scores away from achieving their aspirations last year - narrow losses to Newcastle and Teesside meaning they were resigned to at least one more year of Division Two football.
However, Head Coach Martin Harrison emphasised that the Predators, who’ve undergone an offseason rebrand, are ready to make a new challenge for the top of the table.
“The old logo for the Predators, like many other Uniball teams, was ‘borrowed’ from somewhere else. We were fortunate to have former player and defensive captain Hamish Wallace produced our new logo and the rest of the rebrand went along with it. Thanks to this, we’ve definitely seen an increase in recruitment and recognition.”
Building up to the season, the Predators tested themselves against their old friends, the Napier Knights, and despite resting some key players Coach Harrison believes his side made a good account of itself, matching up well to the Division One side for much of the day.
“We’ve had a good preseason… if a rather long one! I’m not sure I’ve ever had two full months to prepare a team, but nothing surprises me anymore in Britball!”
With Heriot-Watt putting in a good showing in their opener, and York and Teesside also both looking very capable, Coach Harrison acknowledged that while every game in D2 football is crucial, it’s tough to really know what to expect coming into the first game of the season:
“Your first game of the season is always tough. Especially when its the first game for both sides. You can’t go by last years film in Uniball as most teams change will change things around a lot both in personnel and scheme.”
Ones To Watch
First and foremost when looking at the Predators, you have to talk about their workhorse running back:
“Everyone knows about Calum Davidson and what he brings to the table. He is entering his senior year after playing for the Edinburgh Wolves over the summer and getting a call-up to the Great Britain Lions training camp so we’re expecting him to be just as dangerous this year as any other - if not more so!”
However, it was a strong defence that also kept the Predators competitive last season, and Coach Harrison noted a number of players he’s expecting to stand out this season as they assume leadership roles within the team:
“Defensively we have several returners this year particularly within the secondary. Mark Norris, James Ellis and Nick Brewer are guys we will be expecting to lead the team this year.”
When last they met…
These two teams last shared a conference back in 14/15 - right ahead of the D1/D2 split. It was a strong year for the Spartans, but far more troubled one for the Predators who won just a single game that year (though never lost by more than a single score), and finished their campaign with a walkover loss to Sunderland.
If we’re looking for a fixture when they actually stepped out onto the field? Don’t quote us, but it looks like we might be going back to the ‘Napier Mavericks’ era for the Predators, a 30-0 loss to the Spartans in January of 2009!
But who’s winning this one?
It’s a tough one to call, but odds are this game will ultimately come down to how many touches of the ball running back Calum Davidson has, and how much of their depth issues Sunderland have addressed over the offseason.
Let’s see who the BUCS office think have the edge:
Predictions for all BUCS fixtures are also incoming, they’ll just be in a simpler, pick’em style format this season.