By Liam McCoppin, Ajantha Abey, Maria Wizbicki, Daniel Scharf, and Annabelle Murdoch.
Editor’s Note: Liam McCoppin is coach and player for the Wrackspurts, Maria Wizbicki is a player for Macquarie, Daniel Scharf is a player for ACU Paladins, and Annabelle Murdoch is a player for the Wollongong Warriors.
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 Four in order of Pod seeding, with guest writers from around the country.
Wrackspurts Quidditch Club
After making the final eight at QUAFL 2015, the Wrackspurts have made some large changes to their team’s tactics and squad. The Wrackspurts’ beating lines lacked depth and top-end talent, and the athleticism in their quaffle offense, although fast and exciting, often lacked cohesion. Shortly after QUAFL 2015, the Wrackspurts picked up star Team Australia beater Deni Tasman who had an immediate impact, and the experience Tasman brings to the team (QUAFL 2014 MVP, QUAFL 2014 and 2015 championship winner) will leave the Wrackspurts in good stead at the pointy end of this year’s campaign.
Team Australia chaser Jarrod Growse is a huge out for the Wrackspurts as he continues his studies in the US, but the amount of depth the Wrackspurt roster provides, including Team Australia seeker Neil Kemister and State representatives Kristeen Wong (beater), William Hellier (chaser/keeper), Ned Smith (chaser), Bodie Nash (utility) and Liam McCoppin (utility), is immense. The Wrackspurts showed during the Victoria Cup they are scoring more goals than ever, including increasing their non-male goal output by over four times since the previous season, as well as conceding fewer goals than any other team. In a pool that presents few scares for the Wrackspurts, the team in blue will consider anything less than a final four finish a disappointment.
The Newcastle Fireballs are a physical, defence-oriented team with the potential to do well in Pool Four as they go into QUAFL. Notable amongst the Fireballs squad is new talent Johannes “the Eagle” O’Brien, a fast wing chaser who also boasts an impressive catch record since joining the squad; O’Brien will be essential since Team World player Dameon Osborn is out due to a shoulder injury. Other notable absences include beaters Desany Phanoraj, Emmanuel Berkowicz (now University of New South Wales), and Team Australia beater Nicholas Allan (now Western Sydney Quidditch Club). Jackson Shields and Kit Mulcaster deserve mentions as impressive new players, adding speed and technique to an otherwise very size-dominated team. Whether they can match last year’s final four performance remains to be seen, but it is made easier by the smaller pool and a lucky seeding in Pod Two. Going deep into finals could prove a struggle, but as the old adage goes, quick players get tired but big players don’t get any smaller.
The Macquarie Marauders have had an interesting year with an unusually large player turnover. Last year’s captain Kieran Richards, who led the Marauders into a more competitive mindset, has since left, and now in place are the 2015 recruits Geoffrey Talbott and Matilda Eder as co-captains. They have proceeded to create a tight-knit team that focuses on cooperation and building player’s strengths into gameplay strategy. Macquarie’s traditionally strategic beaters, led by veteran Ana Barciela, have gained a more aggressive edge with Talbott’s transition into beater and with the return of the formidable Daniel Commander.
With the new turnover, it has taken some time to create the right team flow, but the new additions have already made great impacts. Emily Bray and Brandon Frison joined team members Jack Ball, Geoffrey Talbott, and Matilda Eder on the NSW A and B State of Origin squads, demonstrating a chaser line that has a certain level of x-factor to it. This lineup is supported by 2016 recruit keepers Jack Sinclair and Peter Isaac, who have seamlessly merged into the team dynamic and keep excellent field control while maintaining an active role in play. The team has been putting in significant training time this year and made strategy a key focus, so while the past season’s results have been mixed, the Marauders have previously been known to be a wildcard when it comes to QUAFL.
Australian Catholic University Paladins
QUAFL 2016 marks the Paladins’ first trip to the national tournament. Although it is the team’s first year, five players – Daniel Scharf, Sam Chittenden, Kia Seeto, Thiline Widanagamage, and Zachariah Strauss – travelled last year with the QUT Lycans, while six players were selected as State representatives who travelled to Sydney for the third State of Origin. The Paladins have demonstrated a strong offence throughout the Queensland season, though their defence still lags behind a little. Their greatest asset lies in Timothy Gunstone, the pinnacle of Paladin pride. Fresh-faced from high school, his first year playing is with the apparent experience of years. In a utility role, he may even play every position for the team during the tournament.
With a squad of only 13 players, the Paladins should be happy to have drawn the smaller pool as it will make for an easier win. With one less game than other pools they can maintain their stamina, allowing them a greater chance of remaining in snitch range and pulling a win, most likely against Wollongong. Macquarie always does well at QUAFL, and against such experience it would be surprising to see the Paladins defeat Macquarie or Newcastle and take the finals place.
The Warriors have been improving their play style but are still struggling to translate successes onto the scoreboard. Over the New South Wales season the Warriors only pulled one win, but as they continue to recruit players the team is hoping to perform better at this QUAFL than previous years. The new players have mixed in well with older players, creating a cohesive team that works well together. The team has been working on switching the play style from trying to score on drives to passing around and making use of all players, which is a huge help to players’ stamina. Losing Joshua Naismith early in the year is a blow as he is one of their stronger players and has left a hole to be filled. Some notable names include Jarrod Simpson, Jacob Fleming, Connor Marsland, and Portia O’Connor, who are the most consistent players, as well as Hannah Davidson, who was impressive last year.
Wollongong has the advantage of the smallest pool but they are still not expected to make it out of pool play once again. The outcome of their game against the Paladins is uncertain; the Paladins are the only team in the pool that has not attended a previous QUAFL, making that game Wollongong’s best chance for their first win in a national championship in three years.
Overall, the Wrackspurts are looking pretty solid to top this pool, with Macquarie and Newcastle set to take the remaining finals places. However, Macquarie always manages to bring their best game to QUAFL, with some notable upsets in previous years. Will it be enough to wrest the top spot from the Wrackspurts? The Paladins and Wollongong will need to bring a very strong game to break into the top three – do they have what it takes to overcome the odds and surprise everyone? Find out on December 10th!