It’s back! After a long, lonely winter, league football is back! Today we’re putting ourselves in the firing line by naming our top 10 teams heading into the season! There’s some big names dropping and some notable absences. Here we go!
Was there every any doubt? The reigning champs deservedly top our power rankings. And why shouldn’t they? They took the league by storm last season, losing only one game in somewhat questionable circumstances, as in, most teams would struggle without their starting QB. Their scorched-earth campaign saw them score a ridiculous 545 points in the toughest division in football. They’ve added the excellent Michael Bradley-Banszki to their sensational stable of pass-catchers, but will this mess with any chemistry they had last season?
Well at Flagging New Year, we saw them take a surprising step back from their overall victory last season. We’re not too worried by this, as the Hookers have a tendency to roll over at tournaments once they know they’re not going to win it all. In the league, they kept their pedal to the metal, including a ridiculous 60-26 victory over the Birmingham Lions in the finale of the season.
We caught up with resident speedster, Steve Mongey about his team’s success and prospects for the upcoming season:
“Last season was a blast. Being our first season, we didn’t know what to expect. So to come away winning the whole thing was awesome. Of course, now we have a big target on our back, so to repeat is going to be a tough ask, but we’re looking forward to the challenge. We’ve lost a fantastic player in Bobby C who moved back to the States, but we’ve gained one in MMB, who is a fantastic talent. Really looking forward to getting this thing started and competing against all those great teams out there.”
We see the London Rebels as the team best equipped to dethrone the Buttonhookers. The 2016 champs uncharacteristically lost 3 games last year – but they were all at the hands of the Buttonhookers. Their most decisive loss was by 9 points in the playoffs, and that was when the Rebels were down two of their top targets. They’ve got a frightening combination of athleticism and flag savvy that puts them head and shoulders against nearly every team in the league. Calvin Tarlton is a top tier QB who has all the experience to lead his team through a tough schedule this season. The Rebels won’t have the distraction of Champions Bowl this season, and can focus on overthrowing the Buttonhookers. The Rebels are the team that no-one will want at finals day.
The Sheffield Giants come in third on power rankings after finishing third overall in last year’s standings. They’ve got a tough act to follow, but they’ve got all the ability to see it out. Josh Allen is one of the most dynamic talents in the country, as he can score from anywhere on the field. The Giants offence is complimented by strong receivers in Tim Darracott and the newly recruited Mantas Ceckauskas. Having so many dangerous threats on the outside should give Josh far more room to work with, and gives the Giants a pick-your-poison offence which is just about as dangerous as any in the league. This compliments their already vaunted defence, which is lead by GB Lion Dean Whittingslow. This unit deserve all the praise that comes their way, as they adjust just about as well as any team in the league mid-game.
The Glasgow Hornets are fourth in our power rankings after their domestically down year in 2017. They had championship aspirations, but fell at the first hurdle against the Birmingham Lions. Statistically, they had the top offence AND defence last season, which is an incredible feat. A lot of that could be attributed to their demolition of some of the weaker teams that will be in division one this year instead. Will the step up in competition hurt them? Like the Giants, they’ve put in a developmental team into division one in order to focus their efforts in an all out assault of the Premier Division, and they’re certainly equipped to do so. Their receiving corps rivals the Buttonhookers, and arguably has more diversity, with pace, power,a little hip shiftiness, and dual-threat capabilities all present. GB HC Alan Young is the signal caller on offence and can tailor a game-plan to be either explosive, or methodical. Defensively, the Hornets rely on a number of their offensive stars to play both ways, so this could come back to bite them. Their year has started well, with a UK-best 5th overall placement at Flagging New Year, and a big win at Flagging Iron Man – a tournament which showcased the ability of their star men playing both ways.
Chairman and defensive captain Andrew Gibson gave us the lowdown on the Hornets’ preparation:
“With the disappointing end to last year, we were determined to put things right this season, starting at Flagging New Year. We were a smaller outfit and were more focused, which showed with our results on the field – losing once all weekend to the excellent Gold Diggers. We followed that success up with a nice win at Flagging Iron Man. Granted it was in our back garden, but it was a blast and a really cool concept. While we’ve had success on and off the field with the installation of our development team, we’ve also suffered a few injuries that might hurt us early in the year. We want to get right and to our full potential just in time for the business-end of the season, because we’ve done the opposite the past few years.”
The Oilcats are the sleeping giants of the league. They were absent from Britbowl last season, but finished 3rd the season prior, and were close to making the final the season before that. It’s inexcusable for people to discount them, because they’re just that strong. It’s simple maths. You have five players on both sides of the ball. The Oilcats’ top five players are among the best in the league, including Gary Elliot, who is arguably the best all-round player in the UK. With him in the lineup, they always have a chance to compete. Just look at their narrow loss to the Hornets in the playoffs last year – they were missing four members of their starting lineup at one point, but with Gary on the field, they still managed to keep it within a score. Again, this is another team putting a development side. Head Coach Mike Scott gave us his summary of his team’s chances:
“The 2nd team will allow us to focus a lot more on a smaller group of players, rather than everyone having to share playing time. For both teams everyone is going to be on the field more, so they will be able to build chemistry with one another faster and everyone will progress much quicker. The players in the 2nd team will also get much more game experience, which should mean that the step up to playing in the 1st team is a lot easier to make.”
The window could be closing on the Oilcats soon though, as other commitments are starting to get in the way of their top players at times. But for now, we see them as a real contender to win it all.
The third team from the famous trio of HNC heavyweights is the Grangemouth Broncos. We say it all the time, but these teams are so interchangeable and trade wins and losses back and forth. The Broncos, like their conference counterparts, have an exceptionally strong starting lineup, as they have no less than four players involved in the GB set up on the field at once. Their issues in the past have seemed entirely internal, with doubt and mental-weakness creeping into their game at the worst time. Their season was somewhat encapsulated by a play in their playoff loss to the Oilcats last season. Down and needing a score, Fraser Thomson read a pass from Aberdeen QB perfectly in the front zone of the defence. He leapt to snatch the interception, and was probably in the midst of deciding which touchdown dance to use. The ball uncharacteristically bounced off his hands and straight into the waiting arms of an Aberdeen receiver, who proceeded to slip through a number of missed tackles for the game-sealing score. It was such a fine margin between keeping their season alive, and it all going up in smoke, and it was a self-inflicted loss at that. With Fraser now head coach of the side, we expect that they’ll shake off any of that fragility they’ve displayed in the past, and be a tighter, cohesive unit. With their own development side, they too can focus their efforts on their strong core of players. They can upset anyone on their day.
The Birmingham Lions came second overall last year, but we’re slotting them in at seventh. Why so low? Well, one of the big talking points coming into this season is the departure of Tristan Varney from the Lions starting lineup. Tristan was arguably the best QB in the league, so his presence will be massively missed. You don’t just replace a player like Tristan and expect the same results on the field. We also anticipate that some players will drop off with Tristan’s departure, as he was essentially the member of the squad that everyone rallied behind. In good news though, Drew Newiss should be terrorising opposition defences with his excellent route running and catch radius, and Paul Zinkus is a strong defensive presence who was quietly underrated last year, and a big reason that the Lions toppled the Glasgow Hornets. The Lions could arguably be slotted anywhere above or below where we’ve got them, but they’ve got just enough talent for us to justify their placement here. Their shellacking of the Hurricanes was so comprehensive, that we still see them as the class of the SWC. We spoke to Paul about how the Lions are planning to approach this potentially difficult season:
“Leading our offence this year will be Rohan Sandhu, orchestrator of the Tom Brady-esque 28 unanswered point comeback against rivals Herts Uni, that gave Lions their division crown again. We have retained many key players including Louis Clarke, who is a multi position player. He got 7 ints in one tournament and 6 offensive TDs on the season. The squad also has its GB connections with self retired receiver Drew Newiss. Who would never be one to blow his own trumpet, but is rumoured to have caught 10 TDs in one single flag game. And we have me too, known more for coverage and tackles than for having great hands – an off-season run of INTs may suggest otherwise though. As always I expect us to bring in a number of top quality athletes and ballers from the contact form of the game; this year we also hope to field a number of the Lions’ women players.
Dare I say it we are actually preparing this year in a manner that would suggest that #ItsNotOnlyFlag.”
The former champions should not be ignored in this upcoming season, as their core is as strong as any in the league. The ‘Canes have lost out on Britbowl the past two seasons, but will feel they belong there, and with the expected regression of the Lions, they could smell blood in the water and overtake their conference foes. The other competition in the SWC, the Northants Titans, have also lost their QB. The Cardiff squad have tight-knit group of players who have plenty of flag savvy and ability. Their quarterback, Matt Thomas, has developed into one of the top signal callers in the division. He limits his mistakes and takes advantage of the frequent opportunities his defence gives him to score. The star man for the Hurricanes, is Joe Cotterill. Joe is the strongest player on both sides of the ball for the Hurricanes, and with him around, they can stay competitive in any game. The issue is when he’s gone, the Hurricanes do struggle to an extent. We see the Hurricanes advancing comfortably from the SWC, and they can focus their attention on taking down the SEC teams. There’s some awesome matchups involving the Hurricanes that we can’t wait for!
Speaking of interesting matchups, the Reading Lions enter the Premier Division after showing their talent during their triumph at the BAFA Pre-Season Challenge Cup. The Lions can be a frustrating squad, as they have excellent talent at every position on the field. They surprisingly lost their division to the Chichester Sharks last season, but they have all the quality to bounce back. They picked up a statement win against a Vince Machi-less Buttonhookers late in the season, but fell to the eventual champs in the playoffs. They can raise their game to a higher level, but can also struggle mightily against some opposition you’d expect them to handle comfortably. Their talent? Top 10 in our eyes, no question about it. This team could easily be sliding up and down our rankings throughout the season.
One of the teams that lost to the Reading Lions on their way to the Challenge Cup win was the Victoria Park Panthers. In a thoroughly entertaining matchup, the Panthers were within inches of themselves being in the final game. With that in mind, and the Panthers’ obvious talent, we put them in at #10 in our rankings. The Panthers should be commended for their development as a team. Two years ago, they found themselves at Britbowl, finishing fourth in the UK. Last season, they were put into the proverbial group of death against the Buttonhookers and Rebels. They went about their business in a professional manner, and showed their class by defeating every other team in the SEC, their only four losses coming against the Buttonhookers and Rebels. With the excellent Charlie Douglas at receiver, and Matt Turner at centre, the Panthers have weapons to attack some of the best defences in the league. We caught up with Matt to get his thoughts on the new season:
“Our off season has been fairly quiet. We played OFL, losing out to the Titans in the final and made the trip north of the border for FNY3 where we had a disappointing show compared to our 3rd place finish last year. In that tournament Will Abel picked up a knee injury and looks like he will be out for a decent part of the season which will be a big loss. However we have Felix Currell returning from a knee injury which he picked up in the inaugural super 5s, while playing for the SEC Capitals and have also added to the team with Alex Gillespie and George Roberts who both made an impact for us this year during OFL.”
The Panthers will be well suited to triumph over some teams from the SWC, which could have them competing for a championship berth.