With many teams across the league already opening their season, the defending Premier North champions are yet to play a game. In fact the Phoenix don’t kick off their season until Sunday 7th May. However, that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t been hard at work preparing, with the memories of 2016 still fresh in their minds.
2016 was a season of long awaited highs and gut wrenching lows. Taking the Northern Premiership undefeated was an incredible achievement for the team, something that had been two hard years in the making. The players, coaches and backroom staff had put such effort in to turn the team around. The semi-final defeat at the hands of the Blitz has only fanned the Phoenix flames. The 2017 pre-season has been a great success so far, with the Phoenix adding young talent who are looking to take on a challenge, top coaches around the league joining the club, and a committee that are motivated by success and pushing the standards of American football forward in the Midlands.
As is the case every year, some great players move on from the Phoenix, many of whom this year have gone on to play in Europe. This is very much in line with what the club want to do – develop players to play at their highest possible standard. This season safety Will Hobbs, cornerback Ben Hoban, linebacker Christian Holmes and offensive tackle Jamie Gallagher all moved on to play in Europe. All of which are massive players either side of the ball, but the club couldn’t be happier for them and are always excited to see the next man step up and take on the mantle.
With departures also comes new arrivals. Players from around the country who are looking to challenge themselves at the highest level, receive coaching from some of the best, and compete against the top teams every week. The offence have added majorly to a backfield that was already stacked as Deji Alli (London Blitz), Ryan Reid (Staffordshire Surge) and Dwain Haughton (Sandwell Steelers) join the likes of Adam Hope, Elliot Walters and Alex Lenkowski to make one of the most talented stables of running backs in the country. The defensive line has added some talented depth with the return of Ash Miller and transfers Ovie Jacob Omueda (Sandwell Steelers) and Wayne Drew (Coventry Jets). On the backend of the defence Ant Naughton (Gateshead Senators) and Leos Mikulka (Coventry Jets) are looking to make their marks too.
As ever though the Phoenix are extremely fortunate to have great links within the university leagues and there’s an exciting amount of talent coming up from the likes of the Birmingham Lions, Loughborough Students, University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, Coventry and Warwick who’re all looking to make their marks in the senior league.
After the success of Midnight Mass II, a great team event which helps to build bonds between teammates from the start of the season, the next big event on the calendar was camp. An intense weekend residential which helped put the ‘Nix in the best possible position to succeed from the start of the season.
Coach Hilton continues at the helm to keep the team focused and on course to achieve the clubs long-term goal. Coach Scott is excited to unleash #ProjectHAVOC 3.0 on the league, as last season the Phoenix D outscored 2 Premier North teams and Jason will be looking to do more this year. Lastly, coach Smith. He’s often the unheralded cog in the ‘Nix #R1SE, and is definitely now one of the top offensive minds in the country. Coach Smith is deadly every year with whatever pieces he’s given, and this year he’s got quarterback Patrick Daley under centre again and some scary additions to an offensive that put up 50-burgers for fun in 2016.
Who to Watch Out For
- Patrick Daley (QB #7) – The dual-threat QB heads into his third season having already turned heads around the league and at GB. 2,043 passing yards, 34 total TDs (30 passing, 4 rushing), 218 rushing yards (regular season)
- Ben Burslem (WR #11) – Ben never takes a rep off, at practice and in a game, he’s just as deadly on the deep ball as he is on a jet sweep or even blocking downfield. 557 passing yards, 14 TDs (11 passing, 3 rushing), 15.5 yards/catch.
- Elliot Walters (RB #27) – An elusive back that has continued to light up the uni league with the Lions. 867 rushing yards, 8 total TDs (7 rushing, 1 passing), 8.6 yards/carry.
- Tom Tandurella (CB #26) – The veteran cornerback is back for another season. The Phoenix youth product has become one of the nation’s top defensive backs over the years and as the all-time interception leader for the ‘Nix it’s difficult to argue with.
- Jake Harbon (LB #56) – GB linebacker Harbon is deadly in all phases of the game, a dominating backer that is the stuff of RB nightmares. He led Project Havoc in tackles in 2016.
- Stephen Gregory (DE #68 (BOOM!)) – Stevie continues to be a dominant force on the d-line, he spent much of last season in the opposing team’s backfield as he led the defence in TFLs.
The road ahead is set to be as much as a challenge as ever. The East Kilbride Pirates always bring a challenge, as they’re a great, well-drilled squad who are always a contender. Merseyside surprised everyone last season and they’ve got some great players on their team. The Giants also seem to be making strides in the off season. As a whole the Premier North improves every year and that’s exciting, as the Phoenix want to keep competing against the best and challenge the London teams for dominance.
“Pre-season has been even better this year with another strong recruitment campaign helped by our off-season OTAs. We went into camp in a much better position than this time last year, and the weekend gave us a fantastic opportunity to get better and closer as a team.” – James Hossack, Club President
Next Sunday sees the annual Inferno (Offence) vs. Havoc (Defence) practice. Kick-off is at 12pm at Atherstone Rugby Club, if you’re interested in joining the team you should absolutely get down to see what the ‘Nix are all about in 2017. You can also get all the latest updates over on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.