Pulling The Flag

Opal Series 2016: Who’s next?

It’s a busy weekend of flag, with the opening weekend for both the Irish flag league and one of the biggest competitions in the women’s flag calendar: The Opal Series. This year there’ll be a new champion, as the 2015-winning London Warriors are sitting the season out. Who’ll be getting their hands on the trophy this time? Sophie Parsons reports.

Headline image and pic below by Luke Plastow Plastow Photography



It’s October. The summer is over, the days are getting shorter, and my fingers have a permanent tinge of blue.

It can mean only one thing: Opal weather is back!

This Saturday sees the first game days of the series take place. Southern teams will converge on Northampton while Northern teams head to Sheffield. Like previous years, we will see tournaments happening on every second Saturday between now and the final in December.

However, this year sees some significant changes:

The long-awaited league structure: schedules last year proved controversial, with teams playing each other multiple times. For some, they felt this capped their ability to gain points – if you drew a tough group for the first week, you may have been the third best team in your conference but hold a 1-2 record by the end of each day. This year, each team will play all other teams in their conference.

Full-length games: the three previous series have seen a centralised clock running 12 minute halves, stopping only for injury time. This year sees an improvement, with full 20 minute halves. Not only is it great to see the women’s game is making steps towards being on par with the senior league, it means players have a chance to fully defrost during the game and may even break a sweat.

We’re sticking with two conferences to minimise travel time, but maximise the number of games against different opponents.

So what can we expect from the two groups?

Pic by Dan Archibald

Pic by Dan Archibald



The North sees the return of some familiar faces as well as some rookie teams. The Coventry Cougars Ladies are two-time national champions as well as winners of the inaugural Summer Series this year. They will be looking to reclaim their crown following last year’s defeat to the London Warriors. With the new split sending them North, they will be up against some unfamiliar teams. But with international experience on their side, this is unlikely to phase them.

The Sheffield Hallam Women Warriors will be one of the teams hoping to challenge for the top spot, following their steady improvement over the past couple of series. Other returning teams include the University of Nottingham (with just one team this year), the Teesside Steelers, the East Kilbride Pirates and the famously loud Manchester Titans.

There are four “rookie” teams in the North, though all have been seen in or around a flag pitch previously. With Phoebe Schecter on the coaching staff, the Staffordshire Surge cannot be underestimated; they made their debut at the Summer Series and will be looking to build on this experience and make their mark in Opal. The Coventry Cougars Juniors will also be one to watch, with such a strong club mentoring them throughout the competition. The Chorley Buccaneers have made appearances throughout the year at various Topaz tournaments and made up most of the Scarlet Witches for the Summer Series.

Perhaps the least well-known team will be the Sandwell Steelers; they have a contact background and the firm foundations of an established club behind them, but so far are relatively unknown in women’s flag. Perhaps they will be the dark horses of the competition this year.



Pic courtesy of Warwick Wolverines



With the reigning champion London Warriors unfortunately dropping out this week, the South is all to play for.

The Northants Titans, Warwick Wolverines and Pink Panthers all boast players with international experience which will surely benefit them throughout the series. However, Warwick will have to recover from the loss of their QB and also a change in coaching staff after Phil Gaydon was named by GB as defensive coordinator. Rumours have it that they have made a big money transfer for flag veteran Steve Podmore to see them through the competition. With strong players like Louise Lee and Jen Cooper to guide rookies, chances are Warwick could even come back stronger than ever.

The Iceni Spears and Chichester Golden Arrows will also return to Opal this year. Both played in the Summer Series and will be vying to improve on their rankings and fight for a top spot. The Portsmouth Dreadnoughts will bring a combination of flag and contact experience as they look to make their mark too this year.

The rookies in the South are the Peterborough Royals, Wembley Stallions and Cardiff Valkyries. All are quite new teams. Wembley are probably the most experienced, having taken part in the Sapphire Series earlier this year. They finished second in their division, beating Iceni, Portsmouth and Sandwell to get there. Peterborough are the most recent start-up but have gained some experienced coaches and had a strong recruitment drive. And a quick check on Cardiff’s Facebook page shows preparations are well underway there, with some top notch training fuel in the form of flapjacks (please feel free to share). All will be looking to make a big impact and set the tone for their first Opal appearances.

The schedules for the weekend are below. Pulling the Flag will be bringing you score updates as and when we get them on our Facebook page, and I’ll have a roundup of all the action next week.

north_opal south_opal

Best of luck teams!

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