By: Liam McCoppin, Daniel Scharf, Katelyn Stubberfield, Victor Tan, and Ajantha Abey
Editor’s Note: Katelyn Stubberfield is a player for the Perth Phoenixes.
QUAFL is the Australian national championships open to all teams held at the end of every calendar year, signifying the end of the Australian season. The year 2016 will see 23 teams from six states travel to the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra. Here we preview the teams from Pool Three in order of Pod seeding, with guest writers from around the country.
It is impossible to talk about QUAFL without discussing the Melbourne Manticores. The brown and purple team from Victoria have been crowned QUAFL Champions the last two years, and over the year have shown their fellow competitors they are still the team to beat. The Manticores’ results over the past few years have left them scrambling to upgrade their trophy cabinet, and they have continued their prowess in 2016 by winning both Melbourne MudBash and Victoria Cup. Led by their coach, Team Australia keeper Callum ‘Truck’ Mayling, the Manticores pride themselves on their depth, notably featuring fellow Team Australia players James Williams (chaser) and Cassia Menkhorst (chaser). However, Team Australia player Natasha Keehan (beater) and State representative David Blamey (keeper) will miss the Manticores’ campaign this year, which are both big losses for the team.
The Manticores have shown signs of weakness this year, losing to fellow Victorian teams increasingly often in the regular season, including a loss in the qualifying final of the Victoria Cup final series to the Wrackspurts Quidditch Club. The Manticores ooze composure in grand finals, however, using their zone defence to choke teams’ drives before counterattacking straight through opposition defensive lines and hearts. Will this year be the end of the Manticores’ reign, or will their momentous legacy continue to build?
When the Blackburn Basilisks win, they win big. In 2016, however, more and more teams started to realise that the sky blue ‘Bassies’ are beatable, and as such, the Basilisks have lost one of their greatest attributes ― the fear factor. The Basilisks are still strong, still athletic, still tackle hard, still hit shots without batting an eye, and still have Team Australia players Taya Rawson and James Osmond (chasers). However, the Basilisks can be broken down by a concerted, well-constructed offence. Eliminating the Basilisks’ defensive bludgers and attacking around their key players can lead to easy goals, something that the best sides of QUAFL 2016 will not allow.
The Basilisks have recruited hard in the months leading up to QUAFL 2016 in an attempt to ensure they bring a full squad to the tournament. They gained experienced campaigners such as Tom Dortmans (ex-Monash Muggle), Jack Davis (ex-Melbourne Unicorn), and Graham Done (ex-South Melbourne Centaur), which means key players will be able to enjoy a breather during QUAFL. The Basilisks are still strong enough to finish in the final eight, but the interstate travel may prove too much for the Blackburn team to push further than that.
University of Sunshine Coast Dementors
The Dementors return in 2016 to their second QUAFL with more experience under their belt, playing games weekly for most of the year in their intra-club league. They went unfazed through the Queensland state league and finals except for one snitch-range game where they beat the ACU Paladins by 20 points during the season. They will be looking to experienced players from last year’s QUAFL – Simon Spann, Zachary Parker, Caleb Shepherd, John Cameron, and Josh Lindley – to cover major losses. Although not attending QUAFL, Spann has still run trainings for the team in preparation so the Dementors will be well and truly prepared for the tournament. Expect to see strong communication among team members.
USC should be aiming to match last year’s finals run, but with only three teams leaving the pools they will be fighting the Phoenixes first game of the weekend for that third place. Whether they can beat the higher-ranked teams remains to be seen, as they were within snitch range against the Wrackspurts last QUAFL finals. A bigger squad of 19 players could prove to be the advantage the Phoenixes are missing against the higher teams, which could give the Dementors a chance to rack up some wins.
The Phoenixes return for their fifth QUAFL, and as always, they are a bit of a wildcard team. With no regular season play as a team, expectations are largely based upon the previous year’s performances. Last year, the Phoenixes were knocked out of the first round finals by a Basilisk snitch catch; this year, they play the Basilisks on Sunday morning with a much reduced squad. The team still boasts experienced campaigners with Team Australia chaser James Hyder, long-time beating pair Katelyn Stubberfield and Shane Young, and Elizabeth Burton back from a semester in Canada. The absence of chaser and seeker Michael Palmisano is a big loss for the side; as the highest goal scorer in the Perth League and with an impressive snitch catch record, he will be missed. The team will be relying on their seven debutants to step up this year, including Adam Phillips, who adds a physicality and size to the team that has been missing in previous years, and Chaz Howkins, a strong chaser from UK team Loughborough Longshots.
The Phoenixes were lucky to dodge some of the harder seeded teams; they have a chance to beat USC from the third pod and take a finals place. They will be playing their first game on Saturday morning, and it will set the tone for their entire weekend. If they do not win against USC they will need to beat the Basilisks or Manticores to make finals, something they have been unable to do for the last two years. Unfortunately, the Phoenixes do not experience much game time as a team throughout the year, which affects their on-field chemistry and play making. Without any inter-state play, the Phoenixes always arrive as an unknown. However, with their experience and the tactical genius of Captain Hyder, it would not be surprising to see the team go through to finals.
The Adelaide Augureys return to QUAFL as the number one team from South Australia, demonstrated by the match against Flinders Fantastic Beasts in the first formal South Australian game and during the Wombash Fantasy Tournament. The Augureys have gone from strength to strength throughout 2016, easily trouncing the Flinders team and earning a clean sweep of awards at the August Fantasy in Adelaide. Talented chasers Simon Lee and Josh Thunig have been augmented by chaser Stella Naylor, while the losses from attrition have been amply replaced with up-and-coming recruits Pip Wayte, Christian Bennett, Maaika Tredrea, and Jason Bilyk, all of whom have cemented their place in the starting lineup. The beater coordination between Jason Bilyk and Mackenzie James has been exemplary, as they showed against the hapless Flinders team time and again. Furthermore, the one-man-drive attacks that were a feature last year have been added to by a streamlined passing game.
The Augureys are confident and expect to improve on their performance from last year, where they did not win a game.
“I’m confident that we can do better this year,” dual-position utility Hailey Wilkinson said at the Adelaide Supanova exhibition. “We have trained hard, and I think we have definitely improved a lot.” With the best players in South Australia, and having flattened the opposition in this state, there is no reason not to accept those comments at face value and see a win from the Augureys this year.
University of Sydney Unbreakables
The Unbreakables are the second attempt at University of Sydney’s second team, which is a first in Australia, and they will be making their first trip to QUAFL this year. Not a team to be underestimated, they have a year of training under one of the most experienced and successful clubs in the country. This has moulded a group of new and older players into an experienced and intelligent team, capable of effecting offensive plays that surprise even their tutelary Unspeakables. The team displays a patience, tactical awareness, and coordination that is scarcely found in new teams, with plenty of talent in their deep roster.
Co-captain Alina Scheja has proven herself to be an exceptional beater for the team over the season, and she and James Lim make for a clever and dangerous pair. Justin Miller and Cooper Fitzgerald make for strong and fast driving threats, and in this same vein, relatively new face Tamara Caruana has incredible strength and tenacity, and is not someone you want to try driving through. Unlike most young or second teams, between Zach Vidler, Pauline Russett, and Willem de Gouw, the team is also not lacking in height. Henry Fair makes for a tenacious beater while quaffle players like Courtney Buckley are a menace to deal with on both offence and defence.
Despite ending the NSW season at the bottom of the ladder, with wins against both Weasleys and Wollongong Warriors, as well as the constant improvement and growth of the team, this is not a squad that should be written off as bottom of the pool.
Overall, the Manticores are looking set to emerge first of this pool if they can continue their strong QUAFL performances of previous years. The Basilisks are also looking strong, with a good chance of taking second, though anything can happen. The most interesting game is looking to be between USC and Perth, potentially determining which team takes the third place into finals. Last QUAFL, these two teams were seeded No. 9 and 10 into finals, which makes choosing a winner based on last year difficult. The Augureys return just as unknown, with no seasonal games to base their performance this year on and another year’s worth of experience behind them, while the Unbreakables have only been competing since April this year. Will the Manticores continue their reign, or will the Basilisks avenge the season and take the victory? Which wildcard team from the outside states of WA, SA, or Queensland will prove the best? The answers start December 10th!