Who were the saints and sinners of the first (mostly) full week of action in the BAFA leagues? Who justified our high hopes, and who let us down? Read below!
First things first, we want to welcome back Neil Roy-Warren to the league. Neil has been fighting cancer most of the past year, and we wondered if we’d ever see Neil on the field again. Not only did he beat it in one off-season, but he was able to get back for the first games of the season, suiting up for the Dunbeth Dragons. All teams in attendance gave Neil an ovation as he took the field for the coin toss, highlighting what makes this sport special – the community. He also caught a huge score against the Carnegie Steelers. Welcome back Neil! The league is better with you in it.
Teams going 3-0
Some might have been expected, but some squads really laid down a gauntlet in the first week of action. Game-days with three fixtures can be tricky to negotiate. You need to stay sharp, focused and warm on the sidelines as you await to take the field. Some squads forgot this, and fell victim to fatigue. Here’s some teams who took care of business effectively:
Glasgow Hornets – The Hornets avoided any pitfalls in Carnegie, and scored a monstrous 192 points, while only conceding 6 in total in their three games. They were without their star QB Alan Young, but were able to turn to Nicholas Farrell under quarterback. We’ll come back to their Saturday later, but we’re intrigued that they look in mid-season stride early.
Birmingham Lions – The Lions’ performance at the weekend laughed in the face in any of their detractors as they put up two fifty burgers against the Coventry Panthers, Coventry Cougars Mixed, and held the Northants Titans White scoreless. We’re glad Tristan Varney & Co seem to be serious this season, as they add some much needed competition to the league.
Manchester Titans – We’ll be honest, we thought the Crows would be the class of the MEC Central division. However the Titans threw that narrative out the window after they defeated their cross-city rivals 45-40 in a thrilling game. They seem to have stumbled upon an extremely dangerous player in David McInally. David suited up for the Glasgow Tigers at junior level, and also featured for the Kirkcaldy Bulls in days gone by. He’s a talent that other teams are going to need to be aware of. The Titans could soon be a force…
Sheffield Giants – The Giants were almost unrecognisable in their debut game, with a number of former key contributors MIA for the Sheffield outfit. However, they negotiated a hard opening slot of games to impressively go 3-0. Credit to Dean Whittlingslow and Josh Allen for keeping the ship steady in the absence of some talented players.
Northants Titans Blue – The Titans won their early season tussle with cross-town playoff hopes, the Northants Phantoms, fairly convincingly. Their 47-20 win sets them up well, but they managed to dominate their other division foes. Can they keep it up? We’ll have their contests with the Birmingham Lions and Cardiff Hurricanes pencilled in our calendar.
Newcastle Blackhawks – Newcastle have a somewhat straightforward path to the playoffs, but they’ll be looking to stave off the prospect of a division which is wide open for second place. The other teams in the MEC North will be clawing and scratching for wins to secure a place in the Premier Division next year, but the Blackhawks reminded them who was boss with three commanding victories. They welcomed back Mike Dunn to the line up, and he had a fine showing at WR.
Six teams went 3-0, but let’s be honest, for the most part we expected them to. What about the other teams in the league?
The Renegades have put in some hard work in the offseason. They’ve gone to a number of invitational tournaments with mixed results. But it looks like they’ve built one important trait – continuity. In their victory over the Spartans, they looked assured, but it was their impressive victory over the Clyde Comets that has our eyebrows raised. The Renegades limited the impact Bud McFerren had for the Comets, and their young crop of talent stepped up big time. Rian Robertson and Michael Haddow had starring roles in a statement win for the Renegades.
Coming off an extremely competitive game, the Plymouth Buccaneers turned their attention to the Exeter Falcons. The Buccs had fallen by two points to a Britbowl favourite in the Cardiff Hurricanes. So they should be able to dispatch of the plucky debutantes with minimal fuss. Right?
Nope. Exeter caught our attention with a stunning 51-31 upset win. Nothing tastes sweeter than the first victory, and we extend our congratulations to the Falcons.
The Glasgow Hornets
Here we go again, with a debate about running up the score…
The Hornets welcomed the Paisley Spartans to the league with an unceremonious 100-0 romping. The Hornets have priors however, as they’ve put other, less established teams than themselves to the sword. Their 99-0 win over the Renegades two years ago drew some stern looks from around the league, as did their stomping of their schedule in 2016. It’s not for lack of numbers to rotate for the Hornets, they frequently show up to invitational tournaments with large squads. This will likely end in 2018 with the introduction of the Premier Division, but it does seem a tad unnecessary to be piling on teams this much.
Merthyr Tydfil Thunderducks
Well, that didn’t take long. The Thunderducks pulled out of the first game day of the season, leaving the Cardiff Hurricanes, Plymouth Buccaneers and Exeter Falcons in a lurch. Thankfully the games got played, and there wasn’t much fuss involved. In a heartwarming side to this story, poor Dylan from the Thunderducks travelled to the games the night before, and was deserted by his squad on the day. The teams in attendance got a scrimmage organised after their league games and incorporated Dylan into the lineups, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time for the lone Thunderduck.
It is a frustrating issue we see in the BAFA leagues, however we’re pleased to advise that all the following week’s games got played without any call-offs. That isn’t if you include…
The Carnegie Thunder and West Lothian Chargers
I’m tempted to give a pass to the Chargers for pulling out late in the season, but I wouldn’t be consistent then. With Neil’s health issues, it can’t have been easy to keep the band together. Ian Loggie and Jared Armour left for the Sabers, and they struggled to get numbers to train. Perhaps wisely, the Chargers called the season before a ball was snapped, but their departure means the HNC is nowhere near as interesting. We wanted to see some match ups between the Chargers and their ex-players, but we’ve been robbed of that. Also, their withdrawal from the league was late. Oh well, hopefully we’ll see you next year, Chargers!
On the other hand, the problem child of the Carnegie football empire decided to withdraw late also. The Thunder (formerly Reapers) have had a troubled past for attendance. Two years ago, the Reapers pulled out late of a final game day in Newcastle, and last year they turned up with four players to a set of games in Edinburgh. The excuses for this were hardly good ones either. It’s perhaps a good thing that they won’t be around this year, as it lets the rest of the league get on with their schedule without fear of a late call-off, but citing “non-payment of player subs” as the reason for the complete withdrawal was a disappointing one from the Carnegie GMs. They have frequently shown they can attract incredible numbers of players, so we need to wonder why they couldn’t muster 7-12 bodies for their third squad..
The Clyde Comets
A lot of HNC villains this edition, but this one is more personal. What happened, Comets? We were so high on you this year, predicting that you’d defeat the Renegades for that playoff spot. You just had to make us look foolish though, as not only did you lose to the Renegades, but you were unconvincing in victory against the battered Spartans squad…
That’s not to say they can’t turn it around, as they’ll get a chance to exact a measure of revenge on the Renegades at a later date, and this was only their first game day, so the chemistry will come. Their defence also looked very stingy, perhaps just lacking that knack for turnovers that other top teams possess. Offensively? Just give the ball to GB Lion Bud McFerren a lot and things will be a-okay. We promise.