By Brian Lowe, Date: 3/8/12
It’s show time this weekend in the American National Rugby League as we usher in the opening round of the 2012 playoff series.
Four teams with their eyes on the Cup will duke it out Saturday in the Atlantic Conference quarterfinals.
#2 Pennsylvania Bulls host the #5 Northern Raiders in one quarterfinal, while #3 Connecticut Wildcats are at home to #4 Bucks County Sharks in the other matchup.
Based on regular season results, the Bulls and Wildcats will go into the contests as favorites, although this is playoff football now meaning all bets are off.
Pennsylvania dropped its first game of the season against the Cats, but then went on to make a clean sweep of the rest of its games to fall just one point shy in the standings of regular season minor premiers New York Knights.
In their head-to-head clashes through the regular season, the Bulls had the wood on the Raiders going 2-0 amassing a total of 96 points for and allowing 48 against in those two games. The Bulls also spread the wealth among a host of players; chief among them was John Grace, who finished second on the AMNRL’s point-scorers list with 86 points.
Another standout player is Kevin Wiggins, who is among the league’s top 10 try-scorers with eight touchdowns. Others who’ve shined for the Bulls include Alejandro Valentin, Matt Shannon, Wes Haughton and USA Tomahawk Andrew Kniesly.
The Raiders also have scoring weapons of their own including veteran Joel Venables and Australian import Mick Esdale, both of whom are top 10 point-scorers, as well as Marc Webb. What won’t help the visitors psychologically is that they lost their last two games of the regular season.
And speaking of psychological edges, in the other quarterfinal matchup, the Wildcats will be buoyed by the fact that they handled the Sharks 42-22 at the War at the Shore event last weekend. It was the only time these two met during the regular season.
Connecticut was led this season by the likes of Mike Goward and Matt Walsh, who are both in the AMNRL’s top five points-scorers ranks. Goward is also the league’s top try-scorer with 18. Other players who chipped in along the way were Mick Mulvihill and Tomahawk Salesi Tongamoa.
For Bucks County, 2012 has been an up and down season although the evergreen Steve Thompson and up and comer Zac Padgett led the way in terms of putting points on the board. They were ably assisted by Phil Shipos, Ryan Sodano and John Vella.
All in all, this weekend’s matchups are likely to produce some high octane, high scoring rugby league. The winners will go through to the semifinals, as will the highest seeded team of the two losing sides.
ATLANTIC CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
Pennsylvania Bulls v Northern Raiders
Connecticut Wildcats v Bucks County Sharks