Wednesday, 16 January 2013

North Eastern Mid-Season Review

It’s been an interesting first half of the season in the newly formed North Eastern Conference. Newcastle and Northumbria, who were 8-0 and 6-2 last season respectively, now sit at 1-3 and 2-3. Joined by 4 teams with winning records last season, it’s becoming hard to tell who’ll join the Hull Sharks in the playoffs. Here, we look at some of the results, the table and whether a team can enter the post-season.

Halfway through the season, not many people would bet on the Hull Sharks to end the season without the inaugural North Eastern Conference title. Sitting at 4-0, they have all but guaranteed themselves champions of the new division and another year of post-season football. After already seeing off potential threats Carnegie, Leeds Celtics & Bradford; ther e seems little to stand in their way. Quarterback Seb Gogerly is playing well, and wide receiver Johnny Ley looks to be hitting his stride nicely. The question remains though; once the Sharks reach the playoffs do they have the firepower to overcome the big teams?

Sitting in second place at the moment is the ever unpredictable Leeds Carnegie. With a 3-1 record, their post-season fate lies entirely in their hands. If they win their final four games, they’ll clinch second spot. However, these games include two 3-2 teams in Bradford and Celtics, the latter being played on Superbowl Sunday – perfect for a varsity rivalry. 

Carnegie will be itching to defeat the Celtics after last year’s season-ending half game loss. With their triple option offence always a risk, Carnegie have a good chance to reach the post-season, although after that they’ll need lady luck on their side. The team will be desperate to find some discipline; they’ve racked up over 500 yards in penalties in the first half of the season! If they keep their focus, they should meet the Celtics with a 4-1 record and all the confidence to avenge last year’s defeat.

Hot on their heels are the Bradford Bears and Celtics; in joint third place with 3-2 records. A loss for either of these teams is likely to end their playoff hopes and send them into the Challenge Trophy competition. Having already dispatched the Celtics in one of their many overtime games, Bradford will look to the Carnegie game as a potential playoff decider. 

They performed extremely well in their 58-0 win over Sunderland, and will want to continue that momentum into the second half of the season. Both Carnegie and Bradford will be desperate for the win, particularly as last year’s game was called off due to bad light, halfway through second overtime (Bradford in overtime… really?). 

With Durham and Teesside to play, the Bears will expect to go into the Carnegie game, which is also the final game of the season, with a 5-2 record with it all to play for. Leeds on the other hand have to play Carnegie, York and Durham, which could be tougher than expected, considering all three will want post-season football.

Currently in 5th place and by no means out of the playoff races are Durham, sitting at 1-1, they’ve got a long road ahead of them, especially considering their win was against the winless Cougars. With games against the Sharks, Bears and Celtics still to come, we don’t think that we’ll be seeing the Saints in the playoffs. However, they did post 22 points against the Northumbria Mustangs, so there’s definitely potential for them to cause an upset to at least one of the other aspiring playoff teams. Overall, Durham are performing better than expected.

 On the other end of the spectrum, the Newcastle Raiders have had a torrid time in the first half of the season. Their offence hasn’t really showed up to many games, and there seems to be a lack of confidence after the loss of head coach Ben Johnson and a conference realignment that actually gave the double-wing offence some competition. The best they can hope for now is a 5-3 record and hope to squeeze into 4th place in the division. With away trips to York and Carnegie to come, it’s hard to see the once dominant Raiders playing more than 8 games this season.

York are another team we expected to be performing slightly better after their 5-3 record last season; a record that was better than both Bradford and Carnegie. After a 34-32 overtime win against the Bears this season, the Centurions couldn’t repeat the feat against Carnegie and slumped to a 1-2 record. With only two losses post-season football is definitely possible, although with fixtures including Hull and Leeds it’s hard to see them achieving anything better than a 4-4 record this year. They have the potential to enter the Challenge Trophy, but it would take some huge performances and a slice of luck.

In a similar position with a 2-2 record are the Sunderland Spartans, who were shut out by Bradford and Carnegie, and desperately scraped by the Cougars. However, a win over the Mustangs has given Al Whitehead’s team an outside chance. With the ability to throw the ball as he does, we’d be surprised if they ended the season with under a .500 record, with their game against Newcastle potentially deciding whether they can enter the trophy.

Northumbria, who went 6-2 last season, currently sit in 7th place in this division with an ugly 2-3 record. As with Newcastle; the divisional realignments haven’t helped the Mustangs, as 4 teams with winning records last year joined them.  With the Sharks and Raiders waiting for them, it could get even worse for Northumbria who appear to be a shade of their former selves.

As for Teesside? Well, they managed 3 touchdowns against both the mediocre Durham Saints and an experienced Sunderland side, but were destroyed by Newcastle and lost by 12 points to the Celtics. With Carnegie and Bradford still to come, Teesside’s only apparent hope for a win will be on 17th February at home to the Durham Saints.

It looks likely that the current top four will remain there: the question is in what order. Hull aren’t going to be touched and will likely end up undefeated. Carnegie currently occupy second spot but will need to beat both of their Yorkshire rivals in order to join the Sharks. It’s all to play for, and game by game the table is likely to alter dramatically.

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