Opal 2017 kicked off this past weekend. In the South, eight teams descended on Petersfield, braving 40mph winds and fits of rain to deliver some quality football. Here are our our first impressions of the South this season. There’s a few highlight performances that deserve recognition also!
Round One to the Cougars!
In the day’s most anticipated matchup, the defending champion Cougars met the last UK women’s team to deliver them a loss in any competition, the London Warriors. After sitting out Opal last year, the 2015 national champions looked to reestablish themselves as the team to beat in Britain. However, a slow start would ultimately prove too much for the Warriors to overcome. Coventry scored, then recorded a pick six, and scored again to stake themselves a three touchdown lead in the opening minutes. London was left playing catch-up for the rest of the game, and while they were able to pull within a score in the second half, the Cougars put the game away with a couple of late TDs of their own. The game was a fantastic contrast in styles, pitting London’s size and athleticism against Coventry’s experience and savvy. Both sets of traits are unmatched across the country and assuredly will see both squads making serious runs at the title this year. Before we get to that though, we are lucky to have a repeat of this fixture on November 18th. We cannot wait!
The South can Sling it!
It’s no secret that QBs win games (just ask any Green Bay Packers fan), so it was great to see some real arm-talent on display in Petersfield. While the Northants Titans’ late pull-out from the series robbed us of one of the nation’s best in GB silver QB Jade Archibald, we were happy to see that the overall standard of play at the game’s most important position seems to have taken a step forward. Cougars’ captain Millie Barrett looked sharp leading her squad to an undefeated day. We’ve come to expect great performances from the GB QB over the years, so it’s easy to take her consistency for granted. Chloe Baton demonstrated that she is a natural field general, commanding the London offense with precision. The Wembley Stallions’ duo of Emma Arnold and Tamarra Croucher combined for a number of great throws on the day and are big reasons why Wembley look much improved from a year ago. Even the rookies got in on the action as Hyde Park’s Deanna Ho made her Opal debut in style, leading the Renegades to three victories in as many tries. It’s no surprise that the teams mentioned here all finished the day with winning records and we are looking forward to more wide-open games on the back of improved QB play.
Five Players that Caught Our Eye
Below are five standout players from the first weekend. Some are bona fide stars who have collected plaudits in other competitions and continue to shine. Others are on the rise as impressive performances served notice that they are making a leap.
Kody Price #5- Coventry Cougars Youth
With only five players on the day, the Cougars Youth all had to go both ways and yet still finished with two wins. Price’s play at safety was vital to that performance. She proved dangerous to throw against as her sideline to sideline speed led to a number of picks on the day. In particular, her two interceptions against Hyde Park, one of which occurred in the endzone single handedly kept the Cougars in that game. Price will only get better with experience and is one to keep an eye on.
Siobhan Walker #16 – London Warriors
Speed, hands, body control, physicality. It’s easy to notice the classic elite wide receiver traits in Walker’s game. While she ticks all of these boxes easily, something else jumps out at you when you watch her play. Without a doubt, Siobhan is the best route runner in the country, period. Every cut is fluid yet explosive, smooth yet precise. Players who are looking to improve in this area should take every opportunity to watch her. She’s also only reportedly been playing since 2014 so as Michael Jordan once said, the ceiling is the roof! If she’s not starting on the next GB team, we’d be stunned.
Grace Conway #9 – Coventry Cougars
On a similar topic, Conway’s omission from this year’s GB team was by far the most surprising amongst the flag community. While still reasonably new to the game, Conway has blossomed into one of the country’s best two-way players. A sequence of plays at the end of the Cougars’ clash with the Warriors demonstrated her game-changing ability. After London had pulled within a score late, Conway first high-pointed a ball between two defenders for a sizeable gain. The very next play, she took a sweep around the corner, shook multiple defenders, and then raced down the sideline for a score. On the ensuing possession, Conway intercepted a deep pass and in so doing, sealed the win for the Cougars. There are few who can impact the game at such a high level on both sides of the ball.
Chloe Flowers #24 – Wembley Stallions
With a running back lined up five yards deep behind the QB, the Stallions’ offensive style mimics their contact background more than most flag programs. When you see Flowers play, it makes sense. Coaches always say to use your assets and as a traditional RB, Flowers is definitely an asset. She is both shifty in the open field but has the speed to get to the corner as she demonstrated repeatedly throughout the day. A threat to take it to the house on any given play, Flowers’ dynamic ability forces defenses to respect the run, opening up the field for the entire Wembley offense.
Lindsey Johnson #20 – Hyde Park Renegades
Despite only arriving on the British flag seen last year, Johnson has quickly established herself both on home soil and abroad as one of the UK’s elite two-way players. Big Bowl onlookers proclaimed she had the safest hands in the tournament and she’s the only player in Opal to own a UK National League Championship medal, which she collected as a member of the Baker Street Buttonhookers. The Renegades’ captain scored a number of flashy touchdowns this weekend on long bombs and pick-sixes. However, it was a short XP conversion that she caught against Coventry Youth that was most impressive, snagging a low pass and holding on with a defender draped all over her. With good open-field ability, deep speed, and even a great snap, Johnson is deployed across Hyde Park’s formation in a variety of ways, making her incredibly difficult to zero in on.