Opal Round 2 in the South took place this past weekend. With the regular season now past it’s midway point, let’s take a look at who has separated themselves in the playoff race, some highlight performances, and what’s to come in the season finale!
Cougars en Fuego!
We aren’t sure if it’s THE new flag hashtag but we’ve heard the Cougars’ sidelines frequently cheering, “Cougars on FIIIRRREEEE!” And with good reason. The defending Opal Champs looked as good as ever this past weekend, dismantling their opponents by a combined scoreline of 236-13. For anyone keeping track at home, that means the Cougars scored more points Saturday than every other Southern team has scored all season. Their points difference is also nearly three times more than their closest competitor. While they entered the season as favourites to repeat as Opal Champs, they look stronger than ever. Game week three will certainly be their most challenging yet but with Coventry’s wealth of talent and experience, it will take a monumental performance to stop their drive towards another title. Don’t sleep on their youths either, who are currently in prime playoff position at 4-2.
With the longest journey of any Southern team and with only five players Saturday, Iceni was always going to struggle to get their first win of the season. However, the resilience and spirit that this team showed Saturday was wonderful. Despite injury and scoreline, they battled through the entire day and put forth incredible effort. They ran the Blue Dreadnoughts, a team with three times as many players, very close and started off well against the Cougar Youth, grabbing an early interception. While other teams have played gamedays with small squads or been on the wrong side of lopsided scorelines, no team has displayed better sportsmanship, attitude, and willingness to improve than Iceni. With a tough final slate upcoming, they may still finish winless but their consistent effort is something that every other team could stand to emulate.
Portsmouth Impress and Pick Up First Wins
With tough slates in week one, both Dreadnoughts squads entered week two without a victory. The Grey Dreadnoughts came closest, losing by 6 to Wembley on a last minute goal-line stand. However, both teams remained confident entering Saturday and put on some sterling performances. In one of the more entertaining contests of the day, Portsmouth Blue battled back and forth with Iceni. Despite a furious comeback effort from Iceni, Portsmouth were able to hold on at the end for a 31-18 victory. After picking up a first victory of their own, Portsmouth Grey put on probably their best performance all season, albeit in a losing effort. Lucy Moss starred as the Dreadnoughts kept pace with Hyde Park in an exciting 42-32 contest. With a dedicated coaching staff and a team full of keen players, the future for Portsmouth looks bright.
Mouthwatering Week 3 Slate
Outside of the Renegades-Warriors fixture, week two was mostly devoid of marquee matchups. However, that will be more than made up for in the final gameday of the season as we get the matchups everyone is looking forward to. To complete the round robin of fixtures, the London Warriors square off against Coventry Youth in a battle of 4-2 teams currently sitting in playoff position. The day then doesn’t get any easier for the Warriors as they have a rematch with the Coventry Cougars Senior side. After their furious comeback fell short in week 1, London will be looking to get off to a faster start if they want to exact revenge on Coventry. While the London-Coventry ties were circled before the season, week three’s most compelling matchup may actually be the opening fixture between the Cougars and Renegades. As stated before, the experienced Cougars have been lighting up Opal so far and are barrelling towards another National Championship. However, the upstart Renegades could provide their stiffest test yet. Also undefeated, the rookie outfit posted an eyebrow-raising victory over London on Saturday to set up this clash of undefeated teams. The Cougars, and particularly Grace Conway, have looked unstoppable this year so it may be a tall order for Hyde Park to topple them at the first time of asking. With both teams sitting two wins ahead of the third-place Warriors, this game could very well be a preview of the National Final. Is it November 18th yet?????!!!!!
Here’s how the table looks after two weeks of pulsating action!
Opal Southern Conference
As we did after week one, we’d like to highlight some individual performances from week two. Some are established names who continue to impress while others are rising stars showing they belong.
Lucy Moss #32 – Portsmouth Dreadnoughts Grey
We mentioned Moss earlier but her performance this weekend deserves its own writeup. As a receiver, she does all the little things very well. She has safe hands, runs clean routes, and always seems to snag the ball far away from her body. Moss looks as comfortable catching a fly up the sideline as she does running a quick slant over the middle. She starred in the Dreadnoughts win over Iceni as well as their shootout with Hyde Park. Receivers named Moss tend to be pretty good and she is certainly no exception!
Cindy Ponder #88 – Hyde Park Renegades
You will be hard pressed to find a player in the country who possesses the combination of height, elite speed, and natural athleticism that Ponder does. Selected to GB silver after playing only a handful of games, Ponder is already performing at a high level. However, it’s her upside that is most tantalizing. This past Saturday, she made at least a one or two plays a game that simply made your jaw hit the floor. While a diving first down grab against Wembley was spectacular, it was a TD catch against the Warriors that caused the sideline to erupt. Ponder leapt over a defender who had good position, highpointed the ball over her, and then raced for the score. She is only going to get better.
Milliee Barrett #1 – Coventry Cougars
*Yawn* – Barrett just threw another TD. We touched on it last week, but the GB #1’s consistent level of great play can almost make you forget she’s back there pulling all the strings. The Cougars have been excellent this year and their rise in play has coincided with Barrett’s steady improvement at the QB position. Her experience at top international tournaments has no doubt propelled her to new heights and in so doing, propelled her entire squad forward. While the level of QB play across the UK has undoubtedly improved, Barrett is certainly the standard-bearer at this time.
Lottie Laidler #2 – Coventry Cougars
Ideally, FFW would love to limit our highlighted players to one per team. However, those pesky Cougars are simply performing too well to ignore. Laidler transferred over this year from Sheffield Hallam Warriors and has been nothing short of spectacular. Deployed as a receiver and an occasional blitzer, Laidler has the natural ability to make plays from anywhere. She snagged more than few balls in the back of the endzone this past weekend while also showing elusiveness in the open field on short slants. Paired with Grace Conway, Laidler gives Milliee Barrett a dynamic duo of receivers to chose from.