Pulling The Flag

Opal 2015: The Contenders (south)

So here we are…

Three tournaments down, and one to go. The Opal final takes place in Leeds tomorrow, and a single day of flag stands between one team and the 2015 trophy. While all of this year’s teams will be participating in the action tomorrow, we’ve decided to focus on the eight teams contending for the title.

Who’s got what it takes to get their grubby hands on the trophy?

First, the teams from the south. For our northern qualifiers, go to our north preview here

(Headline image and image below by Garry Charles – MyLonelyTreeMedia)

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SOUTH DIVISION

Coventry Cougars – 45 points (3 tournament wins)

If you’re the sort of person that likes putting your bets on the most likely winner, then you’re no fun at all, are you? But, hey, go nuts with the Coventry Cougars, who seem to be motoring towards their third-straight Opal title.

Even their most bullish rivals will acknowledge that the road to the title goes through Coventry, and that a Cougars loss would be huge news in the women’s flag community.

The startling thing about the Cougars is how much experience they’ve managed to collect, even at such a young age.Normally, the irritating thing about sport is that you don’t get the experience until your legs don’t work properly anymore. Several players – including the talismanic Barrett sisters – have been playing since primary school, and they’re still only in their teens.  Have they got room to get even better?

If you want the short version, here’s roughly how the Cougars will hurt you: They’ve got speed, which makes them difficult to grab on offense, and gives them closing speed on defense. They’ve been playing together for a while, which gives them an understanding which is worth a couple of steps in tournament play. And they’ve got confidence, which comes from only losing two Opal matches in two years.

If there’s a team out there that’s going to beat them tomorrow, they’ll have to get in their heads early and be willing to bend but not break.

Warwick Wolverines – 32 points

Probably the most consistent challenger to the Cougars this year. But does that mean they’re the team that can beat them?

The Wolverines are another team that have been around for a while, and they’ve got an exceptional core of players to call upon for flag tournament action. Traditionally, they’ve excelled as a defensive outfit, with GB captain Louise Lee playing at a consistently high level, and fellow internationals such as Jen Macchia. On offense, Swede Maria Martinsson has been moving her team down the field, and they’ve already claimed the big scalp once this season, defeating the Cougars in tournament one.

Over the last three tournaments, they’ve consistently qualified for the top three, and they’ll be looking to improve on 2014’s fourth-place finish. However, when Jennifer Cooper rolled her ankle in the third tournament late last month, it was a huge blow for the Wolverines. She’s been a real threat this season, and adds an extra dimension to the team. But don’t overlook players such as center Jodie Harris, who’s been a very good target for Maria this year, and can snap the ball with pace and accuracy.

Hertfordshire Tornadoes – 28 points

In pre-season, we picked out the Tornadoes as our team to watch. They’re a kitted team by trade, but have the sort of smarts and natural athleticism that can put up some big points in this league. However, while their performances haven’t exactly slumped, their rankings have gotten progressively worse. Ah.

In tournament one, the disappointing result against Coventry was the only real blip on a day in which they finished second. In tournament two, they got closer to Coventry, but ended up falling behind Warwick into third. In tournament three, the wheels threatened to come off entirely, when they added the Northants game to their loss column and limped to fifth.

We reckon the Tornadoes are still one of the power teams in Sunday’s tournament. They’ve got some excellent skill players, including Jenna Alnajar at QB and GB’s Sarah Glassborow at wide receiver. Angelina Diamantidi is a force on defense, and she’s not the only one. With the exception of the Cougars, the Tornadoes are the competition’s most threatening team when they find their gear, as they’ve got the talent to pile up a ridiculous amount of points (even in the disappointingly-short 12 minute halves that tend to happen at the Opal).

However, they’ve hit most of their problems when they’ve been unable to close out games, losing leads late on more than one occasion this season. They’ve got the raw ability to make a real run at this, as long as the stars align for them. But they’ve got to keep their nerve.

London Warriors – 26 points

London’s performance in tournament three was enough to get them over the finish line, ahead of the much-fancied Northants Titans. While both teams have appeared squeezed in a hugely-competitive South division this season, the Warriors showed up at just the right time, hauling in the second-place finish they needed to squeak into that fourth and final southern playoff place.

Last year, the Warriors went into the final with much more attention on them. As the only team to defeat Coventry in regular-season play, people were interested to see how they’d fare at crunch time. As it was, they started slow, and had to make do with fifth.

The team in black from the capital will possibly fly under the radar a little in the pre-game discussion, but will be hoping to continue their upward trajectory. Chloe Baton looked decent at QB recently, and London have the pace and discipline to give several teams a hard time.

Their turnaround against the Tornadoes in the last tournament was particularly impressive, overturning a 12-0 deficit to win. They’ll need some more of that mental strength in Leeds tomorrow.

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