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Opal Series

Opal Playoff Preview – South

In our continued preview of the Gold playoffs from the Opal Series, we look to the conference that has produced a number of winners in the past –

Credit: Garry Charles©MyLonelyTreeMedia

Coventry Cougars Youth (6-3, #4 Southern Seed)

How was their regular season?

The Cougars Youth are making their second consecutive appearance in the playoffs, doing so in impressive fashion. They generally dominated the teams below them and are a bit unfortunate to end up only as the #4 seed. They lost to the Renegades and Warriors by a combined 8 points and were essentially a few plays away from being the conference’s second seed. Outside of their matchup with their Senior side, they conceded an average of just over 6 points per game.

Any players to look out for?

With only five players altogether, you have to say all of them! Without any substitutes, the Cougars have had to constantly go both ways while making adjustments on the fly. They’ve probably been most impressive on defense, holding opponents to seven points or less in six of their nine games while only giving up more than two touchdowns once. Kody Price has played a major role in this as her range at safety forces opposing offenses to work underneath rather than test her. On offense, Lauren Power is one of the more elusive players in the conference and can turn a short catch into a big gain rather quickly.

Credit: Garry Charles©MyLonelyTreeMedia

What are their chances?

While the Cougar Youth may still be a season away from truly challenging for a title, they will certainly be a tough out for the top-seeded Sheffield Giants. With speed and flag experience beyond their years, Coventry can hold their own against anyone in the country. Their toughest obstacle may be their own slim squad size but with plenty of heart, the Cougars will cause trepidation for any supposed favourite. A top three finish may be ambitious but for a squad of only five, placing between 4th-6th would be a tremendous achievement.

Status – Potentially frisky

Credit: London Warriors

London Warriors (6-3, #3 Southern Seed)

How was their regular season?

After a year’s absence, London’s return to Opal after winning the 2015 title was hotly anticipated. They didn’t disappoint, dispatching most of their opponents with ease. While some of the National Championship squad remain, there is a fair amount of new blood in the Warriors’ program. With many rookies new to the sport, they struggled against the more savvy flag teams in the conference. They fell to the Hyde Park Renegades and Coventry Cougars (twice), though they were able to dispatch the Cougar Youth. The experience gained during this season should see the Warriors peaking for the playoffs and poised for a deep run.

Any players to look out for?

London has a large squad, both in stature and number, allowing them to create mismatches across the pitch. While the Warriors collection of athletes is impressive, none stand out more than Siobhan Walker. She is exceptionally smooth in and out of routes and makes tough catches look routine. Beware of keying in on her though as QB Chloe Baton is not afraid to spread the ball around. Regardless of the score, Baton always carries the same cool demeanor while she leads the offense. She possesses one of the better arms in the country. Pair that with her ability to read a defense and she can be deadly.

On the other side of the ball, GB Lion Lucie Stewart marshals the defense from her safety position. She is long, smart, and extremely physical, setting the tone for her entire team. While many of the Warriors, Stewart included, pose an intimidating size advantage, Candice Simon does not. Even so, she has also impressed as a gifted cover corner and makes completing passes against her very difficult.

Credit: Garry Charles©MyLonelyTreeMedia

What are their chances?

The Warriors may be the most difficult team to peg in the playoffs. As previously mentioned, they have struggled against the more flag savvy teams. As such, their first round clash with EKP could prove problematic and may be the worst matchup they could have drawn from the North. However, London have been here before and won. Remember, they entered the 2015 playoffs with four regular season losses before claiming the title, so they won’t be intimidated by anyone. Could they lose their first round game? Yes. Could they come together, reel off a few victories and grab another trophy? Absolutely. It’s playoff time – get excited!

Status – Potentially frisky

Credit: Vince Machi

Hyde Park Renegades (9-0, #1 Southern Seed)

How was their regular season?

HPR turned heads in their rookie year, finishing the regular season as only undefeated team in the country. While a victory over the London Warriors was impressive, it was their 20-13 triumph over the Cougars that caught everyone’s attention. They boast the country’s deepest group of athletes, and under GB QB Vince Machi‘s leadership, they play intelligent football. Speaking of Machi, the Renegades best comparison may be the Buttonhookers: an impressive and athletic rookie team with a lot more savvy than could typically be expected given such inexperience. Can they follow in the ‘Hookers footsteps and win it all?

Any players to look out for?

As mentioned above, Hyde Park are loaded with talent up and down the roster. Even at QB, they are spoilt for choice as both Angelie De La Cruz and Deanna Ho have impressed. We aren’t sure who will be under centre come the playoffs, but both would probably rank in the country’s top five.

Whoever it is, they will have an assortment of weapons to use. HPR rotate players frequently and have seen Kate Bruinvels, Kathy Boate, and Cindy Ponder all excel as receivers. Bruinvels is incredibly quick, Boate is a tall target with good hands, while Ponder combines all those attributes.

On D, Jen Macchia, Julie Burrill, and Emma Taylor have all made plays this season. Macchia and Taylor in particular excelled in the Coventry fixture, picking up an interception each.

With all that talent, we still haven’t discussed Lindsey Johnson, who has been one of the top two positional players in the Southern Conference all season. She seems to score touchdowns and intercept passes in every single game.

Credit: Gio Forino

What are their chances?

The rookie outfit should be brimming with confidence given their performance. However, they have never played in the Opal playoffs and may struggle under the lights and pressure. A berth in the semi-finals seems assured, but with EKP or a rematch with the Warriors looming, a place in the championship is far from guaranteed. We are rooting for it though, as a rematch with the Cougars in the final would be tasty!

Status – Contenders

Credit: Mandy Keating

Coventry Cougars (8-1, #2 Southern Seed)

How was their regular season?

When they’ve been at their best, no team has looked better than the three-time national champions. We’ve been accustomed to seeing the Cougars perform at a high level but they’ve ramped it up even further this year. On average, the Cougars beat opponents by a score of 58-7! The only blip on their season came against HPR when they suffered their first Opal defeat in two years. However, given their form all season, we don’t think the loss means much. They have a roster loaded with talent, plenty of experience, and a championship pedigree.

Any players to look out for?

Like HPR, the Cougars have playmakers at every position. It starts with the experienced Barrett sisters. Milliee and Kellie continue to excel year after year and have tremendous chemistry on offense. Milliee also has the pleasure of utilizing the safe hands of Kirsty Haw and GB Lion Lottie Laidler, who has been nothing short of tremendous all year. Laidler is quick underneath while possessing the speed to go over the top. Furthermore, we at FFW have grown to admire her toughness as we’ve seen her bounce up off the floor a number of times and shrug off some questionable contact. Laidler will likely be extremely jazzed to play her former team, the Sheffield Hallam Warriors, in the first round before potentially facing many of her former teammates on the Sheffield Giants in the semis.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cougars are as stout as ever. GB Lion Sophie Jones is one of the very best tacklers in the country while Becca Haw and Ivanah Page capitalize on every mistake a QB makes. This team has no holes on either side of the ball.

Oh yeah…they also have Grace Conway. Along with HPR’s Johnson, Conway has been one of the top two positional players in the Southern Conference. She is tremendous in the air, with blazing speed, and a special ability to drive on balls as a defender. No one has more explosive touchdowns than Conway as she is a threat to score on every play. If there is someone in the country more difficult to tackle, we’d like to know.

Credit: Garry Charles©MyLonelyTreeMedia

What are their chances?

They may be 8-1. They may be “only” the second seed in the South but make no mistake about it, the Coventry Cougars are the heavy favourites to take home another championship. Losing to HPR in the regular season may be the best thing that could have happened to them. They are bound to be more focused and driven to prove they are still the best around. They know they can’t simply stroll through the competition and as a result, will be on top of their game. That’s bad news for the rest of the field.

Status – The Favourites

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