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BAFA Britbowl Preview – Premier Division

Britbowl is mere days away, and there’s an exciting eight teams competing for the crown! Today we look at each team one by one, and get a feel for how they might perform!

The Buttonhookers won it all last year. Who will take the crown this season?
Credit: Vince Machi

Baker Street Buttonhookers

Their 2018 Season – The Buttonhookers put in a strong encore performance this season after winning it all last year. An opening day loss to the London Rebels gave us pause, but since then they’ve been lights out, especially on offence. It’s taken a while for them to get the band back together, as stalwart defender Ryan Loftus returned to help steady the ship in the cross-conference fixtures. Vince Machi has been dominant, naturally, as he’s got unparalleled chemistry with his offensive cohort. Oh, and he has Michael Bradley-Banszki in addition to the stellar supporting cast. The ‘Hookers won the SEC with a 13-1 record, finishing with commanding wins over the Rebels and Victoria Park Panthers.

First Round – When the Buttonhookers finished as the #2 seed, they probably didn’t think they’d be playing the Aberdeen Oilcats in the first round. We’ll get on to the Oilcats next, but usually such a high seeding wouldn’t match you up against one of the UK’s finest teams. There’s more refined quality in the ‘Hookers side, with much of the team having been playing together for years, so we feel they’re a safe bet to go through.

Strengths – The Buttonhookers keep defences off balance with their ability to hit you deep in one play. They play a similar style to more American sides, as opposed to the dink-and-dunk approach of the majority of European teams. This change in attack keeps opposition defences guessing, but the Buttonhookers are more than capable of slowing the pace and scoring anyway.

Weaknesses – While the offence can be awe inspiring, it can also be a detriment to the team. As Vince goes, so do the Hookers. Without much depth behind him, a bad day from the SEC’s top signal caller can spell disaster for his team. Just look at their performance at Big Bowl as evidence for that, as Vince’s struggles meant the Buttonhookers were less than stellar. If we were to pinpoint a weakness, it would be “lack of a plan B.” Thankfully for them, they haven’t needed one in the BAFA leagues to date.

Steve Mongey in action for GB, Credit P&M Photography

Star Players – It’s hard not to talk about Vince and MBB when they’re putting up all the points, but the receiver doing the dirty work over the middle, and moving the ball, is Steve Mongey. Steve is an all-round threat who gives Vince a reliable outlet when under duress. Defensively, GB Lion Josh Nicholson is a tremendous tackler, with excellent technique and positioning.

Britbowl Prospects – The Buttonhookers are arguably the in form side of the league. Prior to a turnover against the Rebels, they hadn’t been stopped on offence for months. They’re peaking at the right time, and are our favourites going into the final showdown.

Credit: Aberdeen Oilcats

Aberdeen Oilcats

Their 2018 Season – The Oilcats are back where they feel they belong – playing at Britbowl. However, their season has been far from straightforward. They’ve had some head-scratching losses against the likes of the Clyde Comets and Grangemouth Broncos, when the latter was fielding essentially only three starters. The other two losses came at the hands of the Hornets, as the Oilcats finished 10-4. Still, they’ve had the ball with less than two minutes to go in all of their losing efforts, and every contest has been a one score game, so they’re a few plays away from 14-0 – do not underestimate them.

First Round – A tricky matchup against the Buttonhookers is the Oilcats’ reward for their season, as the furthest travelling side take on the defending champs. The Oilcats feel like a team thats reloaded this season, and are unfortunate to land a difficult draw. They could cause the Buttonhookers some problems, but the London side have too much firepower for us to feel confident about the Oilcats, despite us being big fans of theirs.

Strengths – Defensively they’re a tough nut to crack. Safeties Aaron Drummond and Gary Elliott are both formidable opposition to receivers, as they have considerable height. At the front, Calum Young and Callum Stopani are a sure-tackling duo.

Weaknesses – The Oilcats rely heavily on GB Lion Gary Elliott offensively to keep the ball moving. Scott McDonald has provided the Oilcats with a real presence under centre, but if he’s unable to find Gary, the offence can stutter. Greg Sim has been a great compliment to Gary this year, and has a connection with his QB. In their losses this year, the Oilcats have been guilty of losing their composure in pivotal moments – their losses to the Hornets and Broncos featured some ill-advised throws leading to costly interceptions.

Credit: Andy Keith

Star Players – Everyone will be excited about what Gary Elliott will do against the Buttonhookers. He was a part of their Jags 7s squad last season, and will be able to prepare his squad for what Vince and co. will bring. Callum Stopani is a ballhawk with excellent instincts on defence, he totalled three pick sixes in the last round of league action, including a length-of-the-field effort against the Hornets. The final piece to the puzzle for the Oilcats has been the play of blitzer Stephen Elliott. Stephen has the ability to take over games with his control and height.

Britbowl Prospects – If they can get past the first round, the Oilcats will be on cloud nine, as they’ll have knocked off arguably the strongest team in attendance. That kind of momentum could carry them all the way to a Britbowl crown.

Credit: Benedikt Wolf Photography

London Rebels

Their 2018 Season – The Rebels were forced to play second-fiddle in the SEC to the Buttonhookers for the second year running, but that didn’t stop them from posting an impressive record that had them sweeping the SWC, and picking up a win against the Baker Street side. Calvin Tarlton missed out on Britbowl last season, after picking up the trophy the season before, and will be gunning for another title this weekend!

First Round – An interesting matchup against the Manchester Titans looms, as the northern side have been one of the stories of the season. Still, the Rebels have pedigree and a history of doing well at playoff time, while the Titans fell at the first hurdle last season against the Dunbeth Dragons – a side you would fancy them to overcome. We can see the Rebels advancing, but the Titans won’t make it easy.

Strengths – The offence is by far and away the strongest unit for the Rebels. The chemistry Calvin has with receivers such as Arkshay Singh and Kenny Bello can’t be replicated. They’ve re-stocked offensively, and have one of the strongest receiving corps at the competition.

Weaknesses – While the Rebels have all the experience you could ask for, their defence has been playing slightly lost this season. To make matters worse, an injury to Tim Eaton cost the Rebels valuable playoff seeding, and may have their defence suffering more when they need it most. Their 383 points conceded is 2nd worst of the teams in attendance, ahead of the Titans Blue.

Star Players – Despite the defensive issues faced, Kenny Bello’s nine interceptions are an impressive haul, while Jeremy Meslien has been a tour de force on offence. Bill Ammons is an awesome contributor also on both sides of the ball, as his heroics in the 2016 final won the game for the Rebels.

Britbowl Prospects – Given their experience in the competition, we have the Rebels as our second favourites to win it all. They’re a strong, cohesive unit, who’s obvious weakness on defence is overshadowed by their dominance on offence. They come from the toughest division in football, and have beaten every team on their schedule this season. They’re the lower seed that everyone is going to want to avoid in the latter rounds.

Credit: Rob Connor

Manchester Titans

Their 2018 Season – The Titans had an awesome 2017 season, marching into the playoffs with new-found confidence. They’ve built on that success with another strong campaign, winning the MEC Premier Division, but they didn’t make it easy on themselves. Still, sweeping the Sheffield Giants, who had long been the resident powerhouse in the north, was a massive accomplishment, and the Titans advance as the #2 seed from the North.

First Round – For their efforts, the Titans take on the excellent London Rebels, which is probably the most enticing matchup of the first round. Both teams score for fun, as Alan Mead has been playing at a high level this season from the QB position. We like the Rebels to advance over the Titans though, as they just have a little too much on offence for the Titans to handle.

Strengths – The offence has been consistent all year, and the Titans rarely shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers. That approach might just serve them well against the Rebels, as the porous London defence has shown little resistance this year.

Weaknesses – Defensively, the Titans have their own issues, as they struggle to match-up well against teams with numerous athletic threats. They can nullify your top target, but outside of that they struggle to contend with teams who have multiple strong receiving targets, which unfortunately for the Titans, the Rebels have in spades. While their offence is impressive, they can be stifled on occasion, and lack an alternative plan of attack when that happens. They also lack the experience at Britbowl that their opponents have, which could lead to a lop-sided contest if things get out of control.

Credit: Rob Connor

Star Players – If you need a receiver kept quiet, David McInally is your man. The GB Lion defender couples excellent technique with impressive ball skills and positioning to keep threats quiet. On offence, he’s a savvy route runner as well. He’s complimented well by Richard McEwen, who has great speed, and is a safe pair of hands for Alan to target.

Britbowl Prospects – They’re one of the outside bets, but that’s generally down to their lack of experience at this level. They’ve gotten even better this year, and figure to improve, and could be a Britbowl favourite in the next few seasons. This year however, they could be looking at an early exit.

Credit: Andy Keith

Glasgow Hornets

Their 2018 Season – The Hornets have been to Britbowl three years in a row now, which is the best of the teams in attendance. Despite that success, they’ve never hoisted the trophy. In 2018, they’ve been on something of a warpath after a disappointing 4th place finish last year. They come into Britbowl as the only undefeated team. They’ve been tested well this year, beating the Oilcats in Aberdeen, the Broncos in Grangemouth, and the Giants in Sheffield – three teams that have given them issues in the past.

First Round – The Northants Titans Blue await the Hornets, as the 7-8 SWC side find themselves at Britbowl, despite their poor form at the end of the year. Still, this is the first time these sides have faced, and it could be a banana peel for the Hornets. As the #1 seed though, they have the easiest draw on paper. We’ll just see if they can translate that onto the field.

Strengths – The Glasgow outfit have been relying heavily on their pick-your-poison offence this year, as Alan Young has put (close to) a full season under his belt for the first time in a few seasons – the only games he missed were when he was rested vs the Oilcats and Comets in the last game day. A big reason for the offensive performance this year has been the strength in depth that the Hornets have at the receiver position. Defensively, they have the personnel to switch things up to keep offences guessing, and despite the fact they’ve conceded far more points, their defence looks like a strength this year, but we’ll get to a big reason for that…

Weaknesses – Injuries – the Hornets aren’t the only team to come into the final showdown with bumps and bruises, but they could be missing a number of their starting personnel come kick-off. They’ll need that aforementioned deep bench to keep themselves afloat in their showdown with the Titans. They’ve also shown in the past that they can lose their cool if things aren’t going to plan, as evidenced by their King Bowl collapse.

Credit: Dereck Frost

Star Players – Most defences the Hornets have faced have chosen to try and contain the impact that Julian Holburn-White has on the game. The Hornets’ lead receiver has been in awesome form all season, and has developed into one of the more well rounded pass-catchers in the league, as opposed to the deep threat that he was primarily employed as earlier in his career. Nicky Farrell also garners headlines with his dual threat ability. He’s a shifty receiver, and you’d do well to make sure he doesn’t catch the ball, because you’ll struggle to tackle him afterwards. He’s arguably one of the better QBs in the league, and can come under centre when needed.

On the defensive side of the ball, a big reason for the stronger output is the play of blitzer Kas Arshad. His 19 sacks this season are good for second in the whole of the Premier Division, and he did that despite missing the final league games of the season. He’s capable of taking over games with his speed and strong tackling.

Britbowl Prospects – If the Hornets can catch a bit of luck with their game-time decisions on the injury front, they could get an easy passage into the semi-finals. From there? It’s up in the air. The Hornets have wilted under the pressure in the past two seasons, but they’re still a dangerous team.

Credit: Northants Titans

Northants Titans Blue

Their 2018 Season – The Titans Blue started the season strongly, blowing away any prediction that they would struggle without Adam Grindrod at QB. They lost a lot of talent in the offseason, but they still looked like a lock for Britbowl. Then, they had a disastrous set of cross-conference games, as they now found themselves suddenly in a race with the Aylesbury Vale Spartans. After falling to 7-8, the Titans Blue had assumed they’d missed out on finals, but some tie-breaker magic meant that they snuck in the back-door ahead of the Spartans.

First Round – The Titans have the daunting task of taking on the undefeated Glasgow Hornets in round one. The element of surprise favours the Titans Blue, but wether they can keep surprising a team for 40 minutes is questionable. We’re not hopeful for them, but they could take down the ailing Hornets if they stick to their strengths.

Strengths – The Titans Blue offence can dink and dunk their way down the field due to the strong intermediate and short passing game. The centre play of Jordan Melay opens things up for receivers on the outside. They’ve had a history of ballhawks on defence, as Ben Roberts and Connor Melay lead the way for the Titans stop unit.

Weaknesses – While he’s stepped up well this season at the QB position, Matt Tibbles has a nasty habit of throwing some costly picks, and taking sacks. When under pressure, he is prone to making mistakes, so the Titans will do well to ensure that he’s supported. The Titans Blue have been unable to replace the blitzing talents of Harry Brailey, and have no clear threat from this position.

Credit – Coker Images

Star Players – The Titans Blue can feel good about their offensive firepower, as they have Nathan Coles and Oliver Tibbles as their main receiving threats. Ollie has exceptional body control and route running, while Nathan can beat you with pure physical play.

Britbowl Prospects – They should probably just be very thankful they’re at Britbowl in all honesty. We don’t see them mounting any sort of challenge, even if they do overcome the Hornets.

Credit: Tracy Lintern Photography

Cardiff Hurricanes

Their 2018 Season – The former Britbowl champs have been tearing through their schedule this season, putting up Madden style scores on their division-mates. In cross-conference play, they fell to the Buttonhookers, but gave the Rebels a huge scare, narrowly losing by 6 points. The Hurricanes look back to their best, and are a team to be feared this weekend.

First Round – All that being said, the Hurricanes will take on the “home team”, as the Sheffield Giants will descend upon the playing fields with intent. It’s an old-fashioned battle between the high scoring Hurricanes and the stout Sheffield defence. The Hurricanes might just have a little too much firepower and momentum to be stopped, but this is a sticky test for the Cardiff side.

Strengths – The Hurricanes have excellent QB play from Joe Cotterill, who is undoubtedly the star of the show. Joe has torn the SWC defences to shreds this season, as well as posting strong numbers against the SEC sides. He’s got a strong supporting cast on offence, while the defence gives them every chance to punch the ball in, as they turn over the opposition with high frequency.

Weaknesses – We’re struggling for one, but if we were to pinpoint anything its probably highlighted in their struggles against the Buttonhookers. The Baker Street side were able to suffocate the short passing attack of the Hurricanes, which caused the Cardiff squad to adapt to a deeper passing game, which was nowhere near as effective. Also, as Joe is so pivotal to the team, if he’s off his game in any way, the Hurricanes will struggle to overcome that.

Star Players – Nick Keyse and Kostas Karras provide Joe with two of the the better receivers in attendance at the weekend. Nick does his damage from the slot position, and is a matchup nightmare for some of the cover corners. On defence, David Ponting has picked up 8 interceptions this season towards the cause.

Britbowl Prospects – They’ve got history at the competition, and are definitely one of the in-form teams in attendance. They’ve got no obvious weaknesses and are one of the favourites coming into the weekend. That being said, if they come up against the Buttonhookers or Rebels, we feel they might struggle.

Credit: Sheffield Giants

Sheffield Giants

Their 2018 Season – The Giants have been forced to watch on as the Titans won the MEC. For two years in a row, the Giants have finished second in their division heading into the playoffs. Despite that, we’re not worried about their chances one bit. Their four losses this year came against the Titans (twice), the Hornets and the Oilcats – all teams who are at Britbowl. In 2017, the Giants finished third in the nation.

First Round – The Hurricanes propose a difficult test for the Giants, and on the face of it, they’re probably out-matched. That being said, the Giants have all the experience and savvy to take down a strong offence.

Strengths – Defence, defence, defence. Dean Whittingslow’s vaunted cohort will make you work for any scores you get. The squad are smaller than most but have tremendous chemistry, with all players knowing their roles. On offence, they’ve got big play ability from all their receivers.

Weaknesses – Despite the talent on the outside, Dean has had a difficult time this year spreading the ball around. He’s turned the ball over far too much for our comfort. The Giants also lack a strong option at the blitz position, which could hurt their bid.

Star Players – Suiting up at safety is Max Verlint, who is an physical beast at the back-end of the Giants defence. He’s got exceptional sideline-to-sideline speed which helps him break up some deep passes downfield. Mantas Ceckauskas has been a revelation for the Giants, as he’s contributed well defensively, and been one of the top players in the league on offence. He’s a rangy receiver with fantastic hands and speed.

Britbowl Prospects – We like them. They’re at home, they’ve got as much talent in their starting 5 as every other team in attendance – so why not them? If they can get past the first round of games, the Giants could make a real run at the title.

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