It’s that time of the year again. That time of the year where you have to put up with my constant sharing of articles and sh*t talking (that happens all year round, let’s be real). The time of the year where plenty of lads from across NSW can vent their frustrations on the football field. Yes ladies and gents, that’s right. Gridiron is back for another season in NSW. You know me, I’m always super excited. But that doesn’t come without a bit of heartbreak.
As you may or may not know, my old team (yes you read that right) the Northwestern Predators, will not be fielding a team in the Division 1 competition this year. It was an unfortunate decision that had to be made; coming after some internal issues and many players leaving the club. I, for one, hope the Preds can get back on their feet next year and get back into the competition.
Also, before I forget; due to the Preds dropping out of the Division 1 competition, our scheduling manager Glen Bowes has updated the GNSW schedule. There will now be a total of 11 games for each team, with every team playing each other once and their final 2 games will be played against teams they have already faced. I probably haven’t explained myself correctly cause I’m writing this with 0 shots of coffee in me! BUT to give you all an example, the Gators will play the Lions in week 2 and the Kings in week 4, and play both again in weeks 11 and 12 respectively.
But enough of that. Let’s take a quick look at the teams that will be competing for a shot at Waratah Bowl XXXIV. Like always, I’ll be listing the teams in the order they finished at the end of last season:
The dynasty continues. Will Sydney Uni ever be knocked off their throne? Coach Ogborne and the Lions organisation captured their 14th (I think? Or maybe 15th) Waratah Bowl in a row, an unprecedented feat achieved by none in Australian sports. With some key losses and additions to their offense and defensive weapons, the Lions will look to continue their dominance over the GNSW. Rumours around the league is that a few key additions have been made, including ex-Raiders QB Lukas Vojnar and WR Max Nina, and ex-Sharks QB (now Safety) Jordan Nikora and TE Eamon Akamarmoi. But as always, the Lions will look to their well experienced and huge O-Line to keep their streak alive.
West Sydney Pirates:
I’ll be completely honest with you all, I had super high hopes for the Pirates last season. Hell, I even came out and said they would topple the Lions and end the dynasty. But the Waratah Bowl showed a completely different side to the runners up. They were decimated by the Lions but I think they were their own worst enemies. And it came as a huge shock after the Pirates handed the Lions their first defeat in 3 (maybe 4?) seasons. I haven’t heard much from their camp, but the assumption around the league is that their side remains unchanged. The Peyton Manning of the league David Ward is still starting under centre, hoping to break the Lions streak. But the biggest news is the emergence of John Maumau in the last few years. Maumau has been putting in the work off the field ever since the NGL (ha!) crashed and burned, and made a promise to himself to be the best in the league. And his emergence at FB for the NSW Wolfpack in this year’s AGL campaign showed his diversity on the field. He will be an interesting player to watch!
So before writing this article and after chatting with Jordan Rowland, I was in 2 minds about what I would say about the Gators. On one hand, I didn’t want to spoil too much of the surprise and let the league find out in week 1; whilst on the other hand, I wanted to tell everyone about the movers and shakers of the league. All I’m gonna say is you may or may not see some familiar faces lining up in the white and teal this year. Watch and see 😉
North Sydney Rebels:
Ah the Rebels. I have nothing but love for you blokes. You’re like the underdogs that just continue to impress… well not underdogs anymore. The Rebels ended their regular season with their highest placing in the table in the young clubs history, 4th! Their performances throughout the 2017 season put the entire league on notice that they were no longer the new guys; they were here to kick ass and chew gum… and they were all out of gum. One of their greatest performances had to come against my old club, the Northwestern Predators, where they were able to keep the Preds to a doughnut on the scoreboard; the first time they’ve ever achieved this feat. With some interstate inclusions to the coaching staff, in the form of former University of Canberra Firebirds HC Nathan Long, Head Coach Matt Steel will look to continue the run of good form and attempt a run at the Waratah Bowl this year. As always, keep an eye on the Rebs, they’re my dark horse!
I won’t speak about what happened to the Raiders at the end of the 2017 season as I wasn’t at the game. But it was a disappointing thing to hear from such a good team with great history. With HC Paul Manera stepping down from the top job this year, the Raiders have suffered heavy losses across the board; with starting QB Lukas Vojnar and star receiver Max Nina jumping ship to the Lions, and superstar LB Marcos Delana returning home to the UTS Gators. It will be interesting to see how they hold up this year with such big losses across the board, as these players were critical to their success in the last few years. The Green Machine will have a new man behind the play sheet in Andrew Brundu. Brundu is an old school Raider, taking on the role of defensive coordinator between 1987 – 1993, while also playing between 1983 and 1993. His old school mentality will be interesting to see come out through his players on the field, as he has stated he is all about “Discipline and Fun.”
The alma mater of Indianapolis Colt Blake Muir and ex–Baylor OL Sean Muir enjoyed a relatively successful season in 2017. The Seahawks battled with team’s week in and week out and just scraped into the playoffs having defeated the Ducks in week 8 to secure a spot. QB Daniel Besz was able to lead his team though a tumultuous mid-season (falling to 8th place in week 6) back into the playoff contention. His connection with WR Mitchell Read will be another interesting pairing to watch, while also keeping an eye on their defensive weapons Zach Hughes, and Aaron Beyer. The Hawks are always super quiet throughout off-season so I’ll be interested to see how they come out week 1 against the Gators. One to watch…
As always, the Ducks fought with so much heart last season, but just fell short. Coached by an absolute legend of the GNSW, Glen Bowes, the Ducks came into week 7 of the season a 2 wins, 2 losses and a draw (on a technicality due to lighting issues in their week 1 game against the Sharks). They had battled with some of the heavy hitters of the league giving them a serious run for their money. My tip this year is to keep an eye on Jack O’Donnell. A 14 year veteran of the game, he doubles up at both DB and RB. And boy does he lay a hurt on! When you have a GNSW legend like Stuart Etcell coaching you in the run game (and also your strength coach), you’re bound to put up big numbers.
One of the biggest surprises of 2017 were the Mustangs! They ended the season 8th but really surprised the league with wins over teams they haven’t beaten before, particularly in their week 1 win over the Rebels. With the return of Gardner-Webb University alumni Jordy Stalker, the Mustangs D took a huge leap forward in comparison to previous years. Stalker lined up all over the box; D-Line, Linebacker and made a huge impact. I have high hopes for the Wollongong outfit overall. Wollongong is a breeding ground for athletes and with some more progress for the ‘Stangs, they may move into playoff contention in the next few years.
Central Coast Sharks:
The Sharks make a return to the GNSW this year after a disappointing 2017. They finished 10th on the ladder and their future GNSW Hall of Fame (if they ever have a HoF) Coach Pete Tos Sr. retired. With some key losses to their O, with QB Jordan Nikora and TE Eamon Akamarmoi moving to the Lions, and centre David Grover moving to the Gators, it will be interesting to see how the Sharks bounce back this year and return to playoff contention.
I know everyone loves when I eat my words so here I am, admitting that I’m eating my words hahaha. I said that the Kings will end the 2017 season with a W on their records. Little did I know that it would come against my former team, the Predators! But I won’t take anything away from the Newcastle lads, they rightfully deserved that W! Behind their huge O Line, the Kings will look to flourish again this year and rack up a few more wins. As always, the Hunter Gridiron League has kept the Newcastle boys fit and ready during the off-season and hopefully has attracted some new faces to the game. Keep an eye out for their clash against the North Sydney Rebels up in Newcastle on the 20th of October, that one is sure to have some fireworks. OH, and before I forget, I’m super keen to see the new Kings jerseys! Release them already!!!
- Week 1: Central Coast Sharks vs UNSW Raiders – the Pete Tos Snr Bowl II. Both teams will be competing for the Peter Tos Snr Lifetime Service Trophy
- Week 2: UTS Gators vs Sydney Uni Lions – last time these two met, it went down to the wire in extra time, with the Lions coming out on top. Will history repeat itself? Or can the Gators upset the Lions?
- Week 3: Sydney Uni Lions vs North Sydney Rebels – over the last few years the rebels have turned the tide on the Lions and kept the deficit to a minimum. To put this into perspective, the Lions thumped the Rebels by 70+ points in 2016; in comparison to their 13 point win over the Rebels last year, so this one will be a cracker. Both teams will be relatively fresh from the beginning of the season, so I’m looking forward to seeing this one!
- Week 4: UNSW Raiders vs North Sydney Rebels – last year, this one was a low scoring affair with the Rebels claiming their first ever victory over the Raiders in their 5 year history. The Rebels will look to replicate this win, particularly with a new look Raiders offense.
- Week 5: Central Coast Sharks vs Nepean Ducks – when these two last met, their game was cut short due to a technical issue with the lights. Hopefully they can get a full game in and we can finally see the long awaited fireworks, as these two teams always put on a clinic
- Week 6: UNSW Raiders vs UTS Gators – battle of the universities! The Raiders handed UTS their first loss of the season in 2017 and I know the Gators didn’t take that well. Will revenge be served? Or will the Raiders continue their winning ways?
- Week 7: West Sydney Pirates vs UTS Gators – last season, these two teams were battling back and forth for the number 2 spot on the ladder. Who will prevail this year?
- Week 8: Nepean Ducks vs West Sydney Pirates – the West Sydney Derby. Last year, the Pirates came out on top but watching the game film back, the score line didn’t reflect the Ducks efforts on the field. Will they shock the league and take out the Waratah Bowl runners up? Or will the Pirates claim West Sydney as their own?
- Week 9: UNSW Raiders vs Wollongong Mustangs – when these two last met, I predicted the Raiders to roll the Mustangs easily. And boy was I wrong! Yes the Raiders took the W in this one but the Mustangs fought hard in front of their boisterous home crowd and put on a show, keeping this one tight and only losing by 2. This year, this contest will be played on neutral territory on the Central Coast, but that won’t stop both teams from putting on a show. Definitely my tip for game of the year!
- Week 10: UTS Gators vs North Sydney Rebels – another close contest last season, these two teams have a lot of love (and sometimes a lot of hate) between each other on and off the field. Could this one come down to the battle of the defensive talismans – Tim Clulow for the Gators and Daniel Pearson for the Rebels? How will they have an effect on the outcome of the game?
- Week 11: Sutherland Seahawks vs UNSW Raiders – another clash that always produces fireworks. Coming into weeks 11 and 12, the Seahawks and Raiders would have already played each other during the season so they know what worked and what didn’t. In their last meeting of 2017, the Seahawks battled back from a 12 point deficit to come within 60 seconds of overtime, before Max Nina slotted a huge FG to win for the Raiders. Can’t wait for this one!
- Week 12: Central Coast Sharks vs Newcastle Kings – the F3 Derby. Always an absolute cracker between these two and this one should be no exceptions. It will be interesting to see the table in week 12 to see if either of these teams will be fighting for a playoff spot.
Now last year I predicted an overall winner… and I was wrong (seems to be a recurring trend). This year I won’t make a prediction cause we all know there’ll be some butthurt individuals around if I do. But stay tuned 😉