The second tier of the BAFA leagues is no less competitive than the first. Not only is there a championship to play for, but there’s promotion to the top-table up for grabs Today, we break down some favourites from each division.
We’ll preface our preview with this – There are A LOT of new teams. With new teams come total unknown quantities. This is the article we feel we’ll look back on most and wonder “What were we thinking?” We can only go on what we’ve seen, so please, feel free to prove us wrong.
Starting up North, we see a lot of familiar faces in the league. There’s some squads who barely missed out on Premier Division places last season, and strong rookie outfits.
In the HNC, we have six teams competing, with three of these being developmental squads of some Premier Division heavyweights. The Glasgow Killer Bees, Grangemouth Colts and Aberdeen Oilcats 2 will be hoping to emulate their counterparts and repeat the success that the Hornets, Broncos and Oilcats have had in the past. But how will they fare? This will probably be a learning opportunity for each team. The Colts, Killer Bees and a pseudo-Oilcats 2 side entered the Flagging Iron Man tournament and had some opportunity to gel together. The “Oilcats 2” enjoyed more success than the other two squads, but they were supplemented by Premier Division talent. The Killer Bees took part in the BAFA Pre-Season Challenge Cup, coming a respectable 6th overall. While they also had a few Hornets in their lineup, their development talent had a chance to shine against some of the top sides in the UK. We’re not really sure how much developmental teams will be managed within clubs who have British championship aspirations. If left alone, either of these three teams could push for a place in the Premier Division.
Now to the incumbents from the HNC, we see Carnegie, the Midlothian Sabres and the Paisley Spartans return for another crack at success. The Spartans have been quietly improving in the offseason, and put in some impressive performances at Flagging Iron Man, including scoring a late win against the Killer Bees. The Spartans certainly have young talent in their midst, but it’s about translating that into results that will be the challenge for Paisley. We see them as a slight surprise package this season, and could push for a Plate spot, if not higher. The Sabres have been quiet this offseason after a hugely disappointing 2017 campaign. We thought they’d challenge the Edinburgh Outlaws for a playoff spot, but fell well short of that mark. They’ve got some flag savvy now that could propel them above the development sides and the Spartans, but without much noise out of camp Midlothian, we can’t call them favourites. The Carnegie side though will be almost nailed on to advance from this group of teams. The worst kept secret in flag football is that Neil Arnold is back on the field as the starting QB of the Carnegie Flag Football team. They’ve also put together the talents of the Renegades and Steelers in an effort to finally reach their potential. With a recognised QB, Carnegie will feel good about their chances, but it’s going to take a group effort to break into the Premier Division.
In the MEC, there’s a more familiar set of teams for us to ponder. There’s five all-new teams, but they all have some recognisable faces. The Rotherham Roosters will have former Sheffield Viper Rudi Halfmann leading them, and will surely draw on his playoff experience. The Wigan Bandits have a number of the squad who made up the Wigan Warhawks last season, including Dino Vernazza, who had an excellent showing as a member of the Reckless Russians at Flagging New Year 3. The Oldham Owls are headed up by the excellent Danny Caballero, and we figure that everything will go through the elusive runner. The Chorley Buccaneers have been very successful in the youth and junior leagues, and will look to translate that into senior competition. Finally, and in our minds one of the favourites to advance, are the Warrington Revolution. Warrington have been seemingly everywhere in 2017 – everywhere but in the league. Their success at invitational tournaments will surely set them up well, since they’re already a cohesive unit. We see all the rookie teams doing well, but the Revolution look best equipped for a Premier Division push.
Of the returning teams, we see the Nottingham Bears try to turn their fortunes around against a new batch of opponents. They’ll hope their experience gives them a leg up against the rookie sides, but that may not be enough to help them push for a Championship berth. The Calderdale Knights were despairingly close to a playoff spot last season, and have plenty of young talent in their roster. If this talent continues to develop, we can see them pushing hard to make the Premier Divison, if not this season, very soon. The Cheshire Cavaliers were making some excellent progress last season, with some impressive wins, but they may take a step back, after losing their star man – Sergio De Paco. Perhaps one of the heavyweights in this division are the Nottingham Honey Badgers, previously the Mansfield Honey Badgers. With playoff experience and a talented squad, the Honey Badgers massively under-performed last season, but they did score some big wins against the Manchester Titans and Manchester Crows. We think they’ll contending for the top of the pile come the end of the season, provided they play to their potential. Rounding out the MEC are the Sheffield Giants 2. With strong coaching, the Giants 2 will undoubtedly be prepared, but that may not earn them results in their first season.
That’s a lot to take in. We’ll give you a minute… The south is even more hectic, but stick with us!
We have three divisions. Firstly, you have the Mid-South division. There’s a number of SWC returners here, including the Northants Titans White, who have a new sister team in the Northants Titans Black. The White outfit look poised for the playoffs, but have to deal with the loss of their starting QB. They shouldn’t fear though, as the pipeline of talent continues to produce impressive players for the Titans, and a new Tibbles will take the QB spot. Much of the squad’s success will hinge on their rookie QB, but with the team narrowly missing out of the playoffs last year, they figure to go a step further this season. For the Black squad, it’s a chance to develop as a unit, but we expect them to operate more as a team to get players experience. The Coventry Panthers faced off against the Titans White last season in the SWC North, and finished a disappointing 3-11-1. They did snag an impressive win against the Hereford Stampede late in the year, and could build on that statement win. There was a lot of speculation about the Bedford Blackhawks even entering the league this year, as they struggled down the stretch to field a team. They’ve managed to stay afloat, and will see a completely new field of teams in their way. They might fare better in Division One, and will want to improve on their rookie campaign that saw them pick up one forfeit win. Another one win team from last year, but certainly no strangers to pulling out victories, are the Coventry Cougar Ladies. The Opal Series champions are riding a wave of momentum after an excellent triumph in the Women’s league. They showed last year they could hang in the men’s league, and we think they’ll add to that win total this season. The new faces in the league are the Leicester Huntsmen, lead by Neil Wymer, and the Rugby Raccoons, who will have Marcus Gambrill at the helm. Both teams have flag experience in their midst, and should be frisky in their debut seasons.
In the South East Division, we see five rookie sides, with a massive name joining the BAFA leagues. The London Smoke, also known as Dallas Carter on the tournament scene, come into Division One with championship ambitions. With Henry and Charlie Williams, the Smoke have a dynamic pair of athletes who match up well against some of the top Premier Division teams. They’re hot favourites to win it all, no question about that. The London Lucky R’s could join the Smoke in the championship bracket, but they’ve got to figure out their QB situation first. When you take on any team from London, you can expect athletes, and the Lucky R’s have them. It’s just about getting them in the best position to score. The Buckinghamshire Wolves prepared for their season by participating in Pirate Bowl earlier this year, but will be disappointed with their offensive output. Still, they have a large squad so there could be some hidden gems in their roster. Their namesake, the Ware Wolves, went an impressive 5-9 in a tough SEC North. Their job was made a lot harder after losing QB James Woodward, but with James returning to the lineup, you can expect the Wolves to have one of the stronger gunslingers in the South East Division. The Reading Knights can be expected to be one of the more free scoring teams with receivers like Vincent Berry and Andreas Kyriakidis, but their success will depend on whether their defence can improve from last year’s campaign. The Southern Reapers enter the league after picking up an impressive friendly victory over the Reading Lions. They’ve had tight contests against the Northants Titans squads, and could be a team to watch this season. Finally, the Wight Hell Hounds round off a competitive South East Division, and definitely have a tough task with some an arduous journey to their games! They’ll hope the long commute doesn’t impact their performances on the field as they have a tough ask of progression from this group of teams.
The South West division has a couple of squads who faced off last year in the SWC South, as the Exeter Falcons and Plymouth Buccaneers will lock horns yet again, and we fancy them both to make strong pushes for the Premier division. They finished 8-8 and 7-9 respectively last season. The Falcons, despite scoring less than the Buccs last season, have a more well rounded offence in our eyes, and are strong favourites for the division. The Buccaneers are explosive, but lost twice to the Falcons last year. The other teams in this division can be commended for their preparation, as they’ve all taken part in some competitive friendlies and cup competitions. The team who have our eye on are the Cynon Valley Celts. Word on the grapevine is they’ve got speed to burn, and with the experience of former Hurricane Joshua Evans, the Celts might be eyeing success in their first season. The Swansea Hammerheads enter the fray after playing their division-mates in some preseason preparation, including some fixtures against the Swindon Storm. Swindon picked up a few wins in the Outlaw Flag League last year, and will want to repeat that success in their first season. The Tydfil Trojans are our final new team, but that’s in name only. They’re primarily made up of the Merthyr Tydfil Thunderducks, with some additional talent. They notched an eye-opening scalp when they defeated the Cardiff Hurricanes in the Welsh Bowl this year, so they could be a dark horse to compete for a championship place.
And there you have it. 58 teams in total now, including a remarkable 21 brand spanking new rookie teams, fresh out the wrapper! We look forward to covering every team throughout the season, and wish everyone good luck in the new league year!