Well it’s finally here. After one of the craziest seasons I’ve ever seen in the GNSW, the playoffs are upon us and the new kings of the GNSW will soon be crowned in the 33rd edition of the Waratah Bowl. In this very special article, I’ll be breaking down the teams that are through to the playoffs and their matchups for week 1 of the post-season.
As it stands now, the current teams into the playoffs are:
- West Sydney Pirates
- Sydney University Lions
- University of Technology Sydney Gators
- Northern Sydney Rebels
- University of New South Wales Raiders
- Sutherland Seahawks
**Even though the Raiders beat the Gators during the season, they were docked 1 point for an off-field issue and as such, sit below the Gators and Rebels**
For anyone who isn’t aware, we run a similar playoff system to that of the AFC and NFC Divisional Championships in the NFL. Meaning the top 2 teams have a bye during week 1 and the teams ranked 3-6 battle it out to see who will match up against 1st and 2nd place. The only difference is that usually the first week of the NFC/AFC playoffs are the Wild Card rounds, but this doesn’t occur for us. So, this means that in week 1 of the post-season, West Sydney and Sydney Uni will both have a bye whilst UTS will meet the Seahawks and the Rebels will do battle with the Raiders.
West Sydney Pirates (10-0)
The Pirates had a great start to the season and kept the ball rolling throughout. Led by veteran QB David Ward, they were able to topple the new-look offence of Sydney Uni in week 4, 18-7. Like pretty much every other team in the GNSW, they’ve been marred with injuries, particularly in their secondary; and in the latter parts of the season, a few teams took advantage of the holes. In particular, this was left by FS Blake Wotton, who was a monster in the Pirates secondary last season, but unfortunately succumbed to a torn hamstring in 2017. This year, the Pirates have leaned on another veteran in the secondary, who I think has similarities to the late great Sean Taylor. This is none other than Chris Snagg. Standing at around 5’10”, Snagg is built like a linebacker, but moves like a safety. In their week 7 clash with the Raiders, I saw him pick off a pass from Raiders QB Lukas Vojnar, diving and catching it 3 feet off the ground! It was called as an incomplete pass though, but I’m not one to bag out the referees in this league ;). His leadership in the D has helped the Pirates hold the second best defensive record in the league. The Pirates will look towards week 2 of the playoffs when they face the lowest ranked winner of the other games. As it stands, the Pirates will not play UTS as they are currently 3rd.
Sydney University Lions (9-1)
The Lions had a rocky first 4 weeks to their 2017 season. After 3 desicive victories over the Kings, Raiders and Rebels in weeks 1-3, their almost 3-year undefeated streak came to a halt when they were defeated by the Pirates at home. This must have been the kick in the ass Sydney Uni needed to get their season back on track as they finished the rest of the season 6-0. This was capped off with a crushing victory over the UTS Gators in Week 10, cementing their place as second on the ladder. Much of the success of their season is due to a few key changes in personnel; in particular, at RB in the form of Godfred Agyemang. Agyemang is no stranger to the game, but his emergence as RB1 this season has really elevated the ground game for the Lions. After losing the record breaking Alex Watson to injury last season, Agyemang has stepped into that hole left by Watto and has dominated. The other position gap filled this season is that under centre. Isiah “Ike” Fuchs has stepped in at QB after the departure of Matt Hilley last year and has really shown his skills. He is a great dual threat QB, picking up big yards on both the ground and through the air this year. Just like the Pirates, the Lions will have a bye week 1 and face the highest ranked team after this week of the playoffs. As it stands, the Lions will not play the Seahawks as they are currently 6th and the lowest ranked playoff team.
UTS Gators (6-4)
The Gators had a great start to their season. They went into Week 6 with 5 wins and no losses under their belt. This was largely in part due to the re-emergence of QB Jordan Rowland. For anyone who didn’t know, JR has represented NSW, Australia and the IFAF World Team as a RB! His step into QB was not much of a difference as he’s had heaps of experience there, however much of the success of the UTS offense was due to his ground game. He has great vision and the ability to tuck and run and explode downfield for big yards. It seemed this offensive combination would only work for so long as the Raiders were able to figure out a way to stop it and break their undefeated streak. Since that loss, the Gators were only able to put together one win in 5 games, that being over the Mustangs in Week 7. A team that was once the top of the GNSW then dropped to 3rd. In week 1 of the post-season, they will face the Sutherland Seahawks and should they win, they will face the Lions in the semi-finals.
Northern Sydney Rebels (6-4)
The Rebels have had another great year, following the success of the 2016 season. In 2016, they secured their first ever playoff berth in their young club’s history; in 2017, they repeated their performance. Not to say it wasn’t easy though, as they did start 0-3 before a strong defensive victory over the Raiders in week 4. Throughout the remainder of the season, they racked up 5 more victories in a row before falling just short to the Pirates in week 10. Their success in the last few years is largely in part due to their offensive line. Anchored by Australian Outback reps Stephen Armstrong and Tait Myers, the big offensive line of the Rebels has helped push their run game to new heights this season. In week 1 of the playoffs, the Rebels will face the Raiders in a week 4 rematch which should be an absolute cracker of a game! If they beat the Raiders and the Gators win, the Rebels will take on the Pirates in week 2. If the Gators lose, the Rebels will face the Lions in week 2.
UNSW Raiders (6-4)
The Raiders have been an interesting team to watch this year. After a shock loss to the Predators in week 1, they were ripped apart by the Lions in week 2. Their record for the next few weeks fluctuated; W, L, W, W, L. Now the reason why I say they’re interesting is because last season they were one of the top contenders for the Waratah Bowl and had moments where they looked like they could be the eventual champions. A new look defense is probably most of the reason why their record looks the way it does; it took the players some time to adapt and work well together. Injuries & suspensions also took a toll on the Raiders, particularly in their game against the Rebels as QB Lukas Vojnar and RBs Lamar Dansby and Christian Gaitau all were out due to suspensions or injuries. Their matchup in week 1 of the playoffs against the Rebels should be very interesting as they will have a full-strength team back again. Should the Raiders and Gators both win, the Raiders will take on Lions in week 2. If the Gators lose and the Raiders win, the Raiders will face the Pirates in a much-anticipated rematch from last year’s semi-finals.
Sutherland Seahawks (5-5)
In their second consecutive year in the GNSW Division 1, the Seahawks have snatched themselves a playoff spot. Their season has been average, but due to their wins over the Predators, Ducks, Sharks, Mustangs and Kings, they have secured the final spot in the top 6. Much of this success has been due to the emergence of WR Mitchell Read, who alone has torched secondaries across the league. In their week 5 matchup against the Pirates, Read picked up 3 TDs himself and this is a culmination of a great program ran in Sutherland by the Lambropoulos brothers. Of all the teams in the playoffs, the Seahawks have the least to lose and the most to gain. The Seahawks will take on the Gators in week 1 of the playoffs. These two teams have not met since week 1 of the regular season, where the Gators came out on top by 4 points. If the Seahawks beat UTS, regardless of the outcome of the other games, they will face the Pirates.
UTS vs Sutherland – Sutherland by 3
Northern Sydney vs UNSW – Northern Sydney by 3
Good luck to everyone this weekend!