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Sunday, May 26 2019 @ 11:03 pm ACST

AFLCNE Enters Another New Era

As the 2018 season arrives for the AFLCNE (Australian Football League Central and Northern England), a new dawn rises on a reshaped league. The competition will see just five teams do battle with Sheffield Thunder and the Tyne Tees Tigers missing from the roster. It leaves just five teams to battle out the new season – but those five will make it a battle royale.

This weekend sees the start of the 2018 home and away season. The Huddersfield Rams are hosting the first two matches. The Rams take on the Nottingham Scorpions in the opening match, followed by the Wolverhampton Wolverines up against the Merseyside Saints. Last year’s premiers – the Manchester Mozzies – have the opening round bye.

The season shapes as a fascinating battle, in part because of mathematics. Five teams don’t fit into a final four come finals time which will make for a huge contest – a little like musical chairs – where one team misses out. This will mean that every game is valuable, percentage paramount and a run to the finish that will see teams going all out.

The Manchester Mozzies are the reigning premiers – in fact, they have not lost a title since 2013, winning four flags in a row and six of the past eight. There is little evidence that the Mozzies will fall away this year and will again be the yardstick for all teams. Their fifth placing in the recent Champions League tournament in Amsterdam against the best teams across Europe says that they are already on the ball in 2018 and hungry for more success.

The Nottingham Scorpions are also of o a great start in 2018, taking out the recent Haggis Cup. Whilst not as prestigious as the Champions League, the Haggis Cup still featured tough Scottish opposition and the win was meaningful. Whilst they were aided by players from other AFLCNE teams, the Scorpions still made a pre-season statement. They have lost the past two grand finals to the Mozzies – by 86 points, then last year by 43 points. They would argue they are getting closer to the Mozzies, and should they again reach the big dance they will have plenty of ammunition and emotion to cause insecticide.

The Wolverines and Rams each reached the semi-finals last year. Both were found wanting in their final matches, but both enjoyed strong seasons in the lead-up to finals. If they have recruited well in the off-season – and there may be some former Thunder players in new colours this year – either team could potentially take the next step.

This leaves the Merseyside Saints, and the delicious question as to their ability to play finals for the first time. Whilst last year was still a learning curve or the club and they only had small doses of on-field success, they are also one season older and wiser. They may yet be the whipping boy for other teams – but conversely, they would only need to snag a couple of wins to boost confidence and challenge for a finals berth. The one certainty is their belief that they could. The Saints have nothing to lose and everything to gain by throwing themselves into each clash and worrying all opposition. Whilst there may be some level of disappointment about the league now being five teams, that position will not be shared by the Saints. They smell opportunity, and that makes for an exciting season.

So, a new AFLCNE era begins and it will be fascinating to see how 2018 unfolds from here.

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