The 2012 season is finally upon us and for the next few months we can put away the petty bickering and focus on some real solid grudges that remind us of why we love the game of Rugby League.
Since last year’s Championship final, the players, administrators and growing fans have been patiently watching for glimpses of team rosters to get a gut feel of what their chances are like. This year the player talent is way up along with a fresh load of star studded imports that has each team thinking their chances are better than the next.
Weeks ago, this fly in the ointment send a request to all team officials/members asking for predictions as to who’ll get the Silverware right through to wooden spooners. While the feedback has flags flying up and down the east coast, I am happy to report back what I’ve learned and what emails followed shortly thereafter labeled “Confidential.”
Season 2012 Prediction:
1st Place – Philadelphia Fight
The Champions are back in full force and although walking around with a target that may help guide a few swinging arms, the Fight have recruited well and filled key positions with some real firepower that could raise the bar on what it takes to win it back-to-back. New imports in Johnny Webber, Chase Mason and Kane Fuller along with local recruits of Marcus Respes and Martwain Josnston will have the entire Fight punching new holes in some tired lines of defense. Their schedule, a complete 180 from last year is much easier and could give them an undefeated run putting them in pole position for the finals.
Key Match in round 5 against the Axemen after a bruising encounter with the Slayers the week before.
2nd Place – Jacksonville Axemen
The leagues flagship is an obvious choice for the top of the ladder but the Axemen have paid a high price for talking transparency and walking the road less traveled. The loss of Kenny Britt, Akarika Dawn, Bob Knoepfel and Casey Clark would be plenty to have Axe fans feeling blunt about their odds if it wasn’t for Australian international Shannon Hegarty. This former NRL Sydney Rooster may be at the twilight of his career but he can still manage a few moves that should have Axe Maidens doing the funky chicken up and down the sideline. The Axemen will also be supported by imports Nathan Tait (Lock/Center) and Matthew Keeley (Hooker/Halfback) along with plenty of depth in their three minor league teams that are bursting with talent.
Key Match in round 5 traveling to the Fight.
3rd Place – Boston 13s
They say “A Lannister always pays his debts” and Mik Shammas’s (say that with a mouthful of kibbeh) RLF Level 1 certification has paid dividends with the signing of former Championship player and highly respected coach Robin Peers. In addition, the 13s have bolstered their ranks with imports Trent Pirihi and Reymark Medina-Berkin who will add some wildfire around the ruck and at fullback. Like the Fight, the 13s have an easier schedule than last year and will benefit having the battlefield played close to their own King’s landing. For Shammas a true lover of Rugby League, when you play the Game of Thrones – you win or die.
Key Match in round 5 against Rebellion could determine their playoff run.
4th Place – DC Slayers
This Slayers team is jamaican me crazy trying to figure out if 2011 was the one that got away or if these guys are still the real deal. Gone is try scoring machine Aaron Cooke who’s blinding speed and agility took this team on an almost undefeated run and one short of the Championship Final. For 2012, the Slayers have recruited well and a number of their key players are back however a brutal first half schedule could see their fire extinguished before these boys have a chance to sizzle. If the Slayers can steal an early one against the Axemen, then these loveable paladins may sneak into the finals and raise the elusive grail that has yet to find its way into their trophy cabinet. The test is simple mathematics in a game that can often be cruel and punishing to even some of our most loveable teams.
Key Matches in Round 2 at Rebellion and Round 4 against Axemen.
5th Place – Rhode Island Rebellion
The purple pirates commanded by the old Black Beard himself are quickly establishing themselves as media tarts in the Rhode Islanding sporting community and have a knack of turning up when the bulbs start popping and the cameras rolling. With a solid year of playing Rugby League under their belt, these scrappy speedsters should now know how to raid the try lines by wearing down the opposition’s big men as the battle wears on. Time will tell if squabbles earlier in the year will have them working together or walking the plank if they don’t string some early wins together.
Key Match is a must win at home against the Slayers in Round 2.
6th Place – New Haven Warriors
The mighty “Once were Warriors” who qualified for back-to-back grand final appearances (AMNRL 2010 and USARL 2011) face an ever bigger test this year. Losses of Kelly and O’Malveney who’ve pledged allegiance to everything but the flag may seem like a croc but the Warriors have moved on and are looking to the future with a number of young players expected to start this season. Players include former Notre Dame running back James Aldridge and USA’s 7s squad member along with import Tavala Bevu who is playing his first year in league after an impressive career in Rugby Union. With a schedule that may well suit the rebuilding phase, the Warriors might just surprise a few teams that don’t take them seriously enough.
Key Matches are all games in the first half of the season.
7th Place – Oneida FC
Celebrating their 150th year (not really) after being resurrected in 2011, Oneida FC (O-Nigh-Da – cap F, cap C) started the year with a goal of severing ties from their 13s brethren club. Under new leadership, the club seemed to be making strides with some key imports however the surprise withdrawl from a few high profile signings have put these early dark horses into a tailspin while raising a few eyebrows from those around the league. Lucky for them big brother has once again stepped in to save the day and salvage some pride for what could be a long and arduous season. Oh-no-Duh!
Key Matches are all games in the first half of the season.
8th – Baltimore Blues
The USARL might be singing the blues if Joe “The Mountain” Pontak hadn’t stepped in to fill an 8th team made vacant by the removal of the Titans. This former Cheerleader now turned league lover will need more than a few war cries to keep his squad of newbies convinced there’s a point to what may seem like eternal punishment with each tick of the clock. That may seem harsh but this game moves at a breakneck speed and tough lessons are learned the hard way and they require hard men to learn them.
For you Joe, I have a few words that may help whenever you feel like singing “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” Every time you take the field, it’s a victory for the game and your brothers around the USARL. If that doesn’t cut it, just ask Moose McGough how sweet last year’s champagne tasted and the road it took to get there. He has his own song list and a few stories to go with them. God help us if we have to hear them a second time!
To Mik, Alan and the rest of the boys from NAMOA who dedicate their summers to making sure we have certified referees at all our USARL games. It’s a thankless job but it somebody has to do it. Players… pay your respects on the field!
Enough from me, let’s here from all of you. Comment below and help spread the word about the greatest game of all.