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Opal Series

Opal Playoff Preview – North

The Northern conference of the Opal Series has had four clear Gold playoff contenders who have emerged. Today, we look at their prospects, top performers and their season so far:

Credit: Sheffield Giants

Sheffield Giants (9-1, #1 Northern Seed)

How was their regular season?

The Giants have come out of the Northern conference as the number one overall side by virtue of their last-gasp revenge against the East Kilbride Pirates. Since their opening day debut, the Giants have gone from strength to strength, improving on the chemistry that was perhaps missing earlier in the year. Inheriting a number of talented players from other teams, it was always going to be a task for the Giants coaches (including GB Lion Dean Whittingslow) to get results fast, but they’ve done so. The Giants sit at #2 in both points scored and conceded, which is a massive accomplishment for the Sheffield squad.

Any players to look out for?

Given it was their biggest test of the season, we’ve put the Giants’ epic victory over the Pirates under a microscope. In this game, no-one stepped up to the plate in a more impressive fashion than Tanya Whittingslow. She punished the Pirates defence with two impressive scores, while also being rock solid in coverage. She’s the unquestioned leader of the Giants, and will savour the opportunity to lead her team into battle against the Coventry Cougars Youth.

The likely return of Amy Wells will be a huge boost for the Giants’ chances of advancing. Amy has been dominant this year, and has been complimented well by the play of Faye Doherty, who took on the #1 receiving role admirably in Amy’s absence. Defensively, Sabrina McKetty-Edwards provides wicked speed from the blitz position, which could frustrate any QB the Giants face.

Credit: Samcrow Lee

What are their chances?

We like the Giants’ chances, provided they avoid mistakes. Their only loss this year came from their most undisciplined performance of the year, and they nearly lost against the Pirates again after a number of dropped passes. They’ve got enough talent in their ranks to do some damage.

Status – Contenders

Credit: East Kilbride Pirates

East Kilbride Pirates (9-1, #2 Northern Seed)

How was their regular season?

The Pirates look like a different team from a year ago, because they largely are. With a near complete overhaul of their roster and coaching staff, the Pirates have taken a step forward this year that few could have predicted. Their aforementioned loss to the Giants is the only blemish on their record, but they were still 12 yards away from winning in improbable fashion. They’ve looked well prepared for every challenge faced this year, and will be a sticky prospect for the London Warriors. As with the Giants (and seemingly almost every team in the Opal Series), the Pirates have had to integrate new faces into starting positions from the word “go”, and this has bore fruit for the Pirates, as they boast the stingiest defence in the league, as well as being the #3 scoring team.

Any players to look out for?

The main player to look out for in the Pirates’ ranks is Aynesley Barclay. At QB, and on defence, she shows an understanding of the game which serves her well. She’s calmly leads her offence, utilising the talents of Stacey Johnston, Clare Dynes and Louise Donnelly to maximum effect. She has come up with a number of huge interceptions on defence also.

Speaking of defence, the Pirates defensive captain, Heather Spurling-McGowan has been a huge reason why the Pirates stop-unit has been so fearsome. If you’ve been to any of the top tournaments in Europe, you’ve probably seen Heather suiting up at some point. She’s attended Big Bowl as a Pirate, Champions Bowl as a Glasgow Hornet, and Pink Bowl as a Carnegie Renegade. Heather has applied a lot of the lessons learned to her game, and made massive strides and helped her team out in their banner season.

In week 2, we named Carla Costa as a player to watch going forward after her sensational day while blitzing. In week 3, she kicked off with an even bigger game-day, including a huge performance at wide receiver. The Portuguese Pirate has been a game-changer for the East Kilbride side.

Credit: Garry Charles©MyLonelyTreeMedia

What are their chances?

The Pirates have every reason to fancy themselves, but they’ve got a huge challenge in their way. The London Warriors took home the gold in 2015, and are full of talented athletes. The Pirates display solid fundamentals at every position, as well as a deep roster. If they stick to their game-plan and frustrate their opponents, as they have in every game so far this year, the Pirates could find themselves advancing.

Status – Contenders

Credit: Sheffield Hallam Warriors

Sheffield Hallam Warriors (5-4-1, #3 Northern Seed)

How was their regular season?

The Hallam Warriors deserve a lot of credit for making the playoffs this year after their mass exodus of talent at the end of last season. The team who took the field in last year’s final is almost unrecognisable from the one we’ll see on Saturday, but they are by no means an easy game for any of their opponents. The Warriors have remained one of the more consistent teams in the North, picking up solid wins where they should. Their victory over the Buccaneers on game-day one pretty much sealed up the third spot early on for the Warriors, as they focussed on getting valuable experience for their new recruits and star performers.

Any players to look out for?

The play of Katie Lobo has been a particular highlight for the Warriors, as she’s looks like an accomplished leader on the field, while also displaying great savvy and ability. Her presence was missed in week two, as she was lost to an unfortunate injury in the early proceedings of their opening contest. Lamorna McNevin has given opponents fits when playing the Warriors, as her range and speed has made her one of the premier defenders from the Northern conference. She also puts in an excellent shift at the centre position, providing a safe pair of hands for the Warriors QB.

Steph Tharme has been another excellent addition to the Warriors’ lineup, as she plays with incredible intensity and desire. While she suits up at safety for the Warriors, its when she gets the ball in her hands on offence that she does most of her work. With excellent speed and vision, Steph has found  the end zone on multiple occasions this year.

Credit: Samcrow Lee

What are their chances?

While taking nothing away from the Warriors this year, it’s really difficult to see a path through for last year’s finalists. Their season has been a successful one in a lot of ways, but they have to contend with their opponents from last year’s final, the Coventry Cougars. If they Cougars show up fighting fit, they should probably take this with ease. The Warriors do have the ability and experience to cause an upset however.

Status – Potentially Frisky

Credit: Samcrow Lee

Chorley Buccaneers (5-4-1, #4 Northern Seed)

How was their regular season?

The Buccaneers have put in an admirable performance all year. Comprised mostly of rookies, the Chorley squad have made the playoffs in style, and will relish the experience of testing themselves against some of the top teams in the country. Benefitting from a somewhat favourable schedule, the Buccaneers even had the chance to snatch the third seed from the Warriors, but a 12-0 loss to the Nottingham Gold side resigned the Buccaneers to a difficult matchup against the top team from the South.

Any players to look out for?

While their lineups feature a number of newcomers, two players have stood out for the Buccaneers in their playoff campaign. Under centre, Jen Collier has shown why she’s earned the respect from a number of her peers. She marshals a methodical attack, which has served the Buccaneers well this year. She never looks rattled under pressure either, which was evidenced in her comeback against the Warriors to give the Buccs a fighting chance of advancing as the third seed.

Louise Moran has also emerged as a massive contributor for the Buccs this season. Defensively, she’s snagged a number of key interceptions to lead her team, while on offence she is a steady producer. The Buccaneers employ a calm and measured approach on offence, and having solid receivers like Louise makes this possible, as she can be relied on when called upon.

Credit: Garry Charles©MyLonelyTreeMedia

What are their chances?

We anticipate this is where the story ends for the Buccaneers, as they’ve got a tough game against the Hyde Park Renegades to look forward to. The Buccs have done excellently to make it this far, and should probably look to the day as a learning experience above all else.

Status – Happy to be here

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