By Anna O’Gara and Gavin Hughes
Editor’s Note: Anna O’Gara plays for Northern Watch and Gavin Hughes plays for Scottish Thistles.
The second Quidditch Premier League (QPL) Championship is nearly upon us. It is bigger and better than ever. We may find ourselves with new (*ahem*) reigning champions, but where will that leave everybody else? This second season has seen two rising Easts, an even North-er North, and the Southern Division winner bank a massive 1250 quaffle point difference tally. It is clear to see that QPL has been effective in its goal to #ChangeTheGame since last season, and the Championship will be the showcase.
Final Divisional Rankings
- West Midlands Revolution
- East Midlands Archers
- Northern Watch
- Scottish Thistles
- Yorkshire Roses
- London Monarchs
- Southeast Knights
- Eastern Mermaids
- Welsh Dragons
- Southwest Broadside
Here is our prediction of the path the championship bracket will take. The matchups we discuss below are all based on this prediction.
Game 1: Thistles vs. Mermaids = Mermaids
Game 2: Dragons vs. Watch = Watch
Game 3: Monarchs vs. Roses = Monarchs
Game 4: Broadside vs. Revolution = Revolution
Game 5: Thistles vs. Broadside = Thistles
Game 6: Dragons vs. Roses = Roses
Game 7: Archers vs. Mermaids = Archers
Game 8: Knights vs. Watch = Knights
Game 9: Thistles vs. Roses = Thistles
Game 10: Mermaids vs. Watch = Watch
Game 11: Monarchs vs. Archers = Monarchs
Game 12: Revolution vs. Knights = Knights
Final: Monarchs vs. Knights = Monarchs
Third Place Playoff: Archers vs. Revolution = Archers
Fifth Place Playoff: Thistles vs. Watch = Watch
Seventh Place Playoff: Roses vs. Mermaids = Mermaids
Ninth Place Playoff: Broadside vs. Dragons = Dragons
Four Exciting Matchups
If you only have time to tune in for a few games this weekend, these are the ones we recommend you do not miss, based on our prediction of the bracket above.
Game 6: Yorkshire Roses vs. Welsh Dragons:
There has been some debate as to which of the two QPL divisions has had a higher level of play this season, with a general consensus that the top tier of the South (read: London Monarchs) is unparalleled. However, the lower tier Northern teams; the Scottish Thistles and Yorkshire Roses, have given the top teams in their division far more trouble than their Southern counterparts. In particular, at the Birmingham divisional fixture Scotland threatened the East Midlands Archers while Yorkshire narrowly lost to the Northern Watch.
This potential matchup between Yorkshire and Wales will reveal whether the disparity is solely due to the relative strength of the Southern top tier, or whether the Northern division’s weaker teams do indeed play to a higher level. Yorkshire possesses a very physical quaffle line, with players like Sohum Bhatt and Josh Armitage more than capable of stymying the reliance on direct quaffle drives that twice carried the Dragons past the Southwest Broadside. Additionally, Yorkshire is a far more cohesive tactical unit than the Southwest; their losses to the Scottish Thistles came down to a combination of mind games and clutch seeker play, while Wales can trace their victories over Broadside to the Southwest’s disorganised snitch-on-pitch game and general slowness to adapt. To keep the game close, Wales will need to diversify away from their slow set offence into a counter-attacking style and more readily utilise skilled receivers such as Chloe Smith to circumvent Yorkshire’s physicality. They will also need to improve their previously dismal 23% bludger possession; as Yorkshire play a conservative bludger game, maintaining possession well although rarely using it effectively to attack. If Wales manage to turtle on bludger control and keep the points margins narrow, their far superior snitch catch record should give them the edge. Otherwise, this game belongs to Yorkshire and to the Northern division.
Game 9: Scottish Thistles vs. Yorkshire Roses:
This one is set to be one hell of a grudge match. Both sides will be bringing their strongest teams yet to the Championship, and this game should be close on paper. The Roses have improved with every fixture and tend to improve throughout the day of a fixture, so they will fancy their chances in this, their third match. However, Thistles have the superior SWIM record so far and have consistently maintained mental fitness over their Northern rivals. A combination of unfortunately timed injuries and, sadly, dedication has been an issue for the Yorkshire team, as reflected in their 12-player roster at Edinburgh and a depleted squad later in the day at Birmingham. While they have more players from mid-tier teams coming to the Championship than Thistles, individual skill may not be enough on the day as they simply do not seem to have a unified vision. Their talented beater line-up features the likes of Jen Hughes and rising star Sam Birkitt, but, on the whole, the beaters struggle to utilise this possession to its fullest extent and seem disjointed on attack with their chasers.
Thistles, however, have pulled skilled players from expanding Development Cup teams such as Alice Ravier from Glasgow. They are solid and reliable with sparks of brilliance outside of their perceived danger players, Kieran Newton and Chema Hidalgo-Lopez. While many Thistles players come from teams who are yet to bring complex tactics to their game, there is something to be said for how this background has been an advantage and shaped their indomitable spirit. They came into this season hoping not to come last, and they won’t; without any precedent, Thistles can continue their rise through the ranks. Keeping their level heads will aid them in a tense SWIM period, and ultimately give them the edge against the Roses.
Third Place Playoff: West Midlands Revolution vs. East Midlands Archers:
Another high intensity Midlands head-to-head for the third place medal could provide one of the few upsets of the Championship. These teams have the first, second, and third most prolific male goal scorers of the season in the form of Theo Baldwin-Evans, James Thanangadan, and Tommy Ruler respectively, although the goal creation style differs greatly between the teams. Every one of the Midlands derbies has been won by a narrow margin and although Revolution have the positive record, Archers cannot be written off. Archers chasers have proven to be fluid and clinical, receiving a pass from main distributor JT to get their money’s worth on the small hoop after allowing their beaters to carve through the opposition’s defence. Their clever play and patience on the quaffle has allowed them to run rings around some well armoured defense formations before, although they should be wary of getting comfortable with their favoured attacks and letting their hyper aggressive beaters stray too far away in this match.
Where Archers play smart and fast, Revolution have the force that is a Big Male Chaser, usually Theo Baldwin-Evans, assisted by beaters; as unappealing as this strategy is becoming, it has been effective, and why change what works? They are a team filled with experience and confidence sometimes straying into arrogance, from Dan Trick tearing up and down the field, outsmarting opposition beaters into submission, to Abdul Morrison overshadowing anybody who fancies sizing him up in a tackle. Revolution play is purposeful and suited to the players’ style by manager James Burnett, which allowed them to pull themselves to victory in the North, but this game is still very much in the balance. Our prediction indeed puts Archers in third place; their level headedness and calculated plays brought them close to a second win against Revolution in Birmingham, and in the pressure of a podium fight, these underdogs could pull through for an close victory.
Final: London Monarchs vs. Southeast Knights:
Even if the final were to be a blowout, it would be worth discussion simply by virtue of being the final. However, despite the unblemished record of the London Monarchs thus far, their matches with their nearest Southern rivals have become incrementally closer with each fixture, culminating in a SWIM victory in Reading. If this trend is to continue we may see an upset in the final.
There is no doubt that the Monarchs are the superior team in the quaffle game, featuring a formidable keeper line of Seb Waters and Alex Macartney, the former of whom currently leads the league’s assists leaderboard by a comfortable distance, and a wealth of world class receivers including Bex Lowe, Ben Malpass and Alberto Salvador. If the Southeast Knights are to win, it will be on the back of their beater line, which matches the quality of their opponent’s, featuring Alex Carpenter, Ben Guthrie, and the mercurial Anjit Aulakh, who, if he is playing to his best, can outclass almost any opposition, as evidenced by his dominance in the final of Southern Cup 2017 for Southampton against a Werewolves of London beater line that to an extent corresponds with the Monarchs core. If Knights can keep the game as close as they did in Reading, and Aulakh is on form, the possibility of a shock catch from behind by Ben Morton or David Goswell can never be discounted. This match does, however, remain London’s to lose, and if they can convert on their quaffle dominance, they are likely to meet expectations and be crowned QPL champions.
Players to watch
Whether a rising star, an unsung hero or an ascendant key player, here are some of those with the potential to really shine at the championships.
Tom Heynes – Southeast Knights
It has been said that Heynes is past his best, but this QPL season has proven that assertion mightily wrong. He sits near the top of not only the top scorers leaderboard going into the championships, but also the assists leaderboard, and he has exhibited an intelligent, unselfish style of play, using his bulk to draw a defence and then punishing them by picking clean passes to the resultant space. He has truly underpinned the Knights quaffle attack this season, and highlights how a man built like a freight train need not be a one-dimensional player.
Sam Birkitt – Yorkshire Roses
If you have come up against Birkitt recently, you will know him as an unfairly speedy and intelligent player who is garnering more attention with every tournament. His pinpoint mid- and long-range beats have scraped back possession for his team at vital moments, and he has been one of few Roses beaters willing to use their possession to create goals. It is little wonder that Birkitt has been noticed at the top of UK quidditch, and Yorkshire will be wanting to use him strategically in the Championship.
Yorkshire Roses beater Sam Birkitt | Photo Credit: Lucy Nicholls
Elliot Thomas – Welsh Dragons
Largely overlooked throughout his quidditch career, Thomas has been the quietly dependable core of the Falmouth Falcons beater line for three years. He is a high-tempo player, confident with or without a bludger in hand, and his high success rate in beater battles makes him somewhat a specialist in generating no-bludger opportunities. This suits the direct driving style of the heavily physical Welsh Dragons, for whom he has been a key player this season. If the Dragons are to continue to defy expectations on home turf this weekend, Thomas’ form will have a lot to do with it.
Tua Karling – Northern Watch
Northern Watch is a team that sometimes falls back into the old habit of using large driving players to create goals; except, that is, when Tua Karling is on pitch. In all Watch games, Karling is one to follow with that imperishable work ethic taking her from being an unshakeable marker in defence to setting up the attack with well-placed lateral passes or dunks at the opposing hoops. She is dependable and intelligent, making her the kind of player who may not immediately earn plaudits but whose on-pitch dedication is integral to the team’s success.
Graeme Zaple – Southwest Broadside
A criminally underrated beater, Zaple was a key presence at the Exeter Eagles during their formative years, and has been the architect of the Bournemouth Banshees’ rapid development this past season. He brings to the Southwest Broadside incredible pace and fitness, calm under pressure and a knack for retaining bludger control that will be invaluable against potential opponents such as the Yorkshire Roses and Scottish Thistles who will look to starve the Broadside of possession. As a QPL debutant, Cardiff may finally offer Zaple the platform to showcase his talent to the sport at large.
Theo Baldwin-Evans – West Midlands Revolution
Far and away the top QPL goal scorer with an eye watering 41 goals after just two Northern fixtures, Baldwin-Evans is the clear danger man of Revolution. He can sit a little too far away from his hoops as keeper, but can put in some crunching tackles at just the right time. Revolution attacks pivot around him on quaffle, waiting for just the right lane as created by his beaters. However, he is not simply a talented driver as shown by some lovely assists created with good vision when the play has called for it. When we say he is one to watch, he is more of a player you could not miss if you tried.
Hannah Ridley – Eastern Mermaids
Highly regarded as a wide receiver, as reflected by her place on the Team UK expansion squad, Ridley’s pairing on Mermaids with two excellent distributors in Andrew Hull and Jay Holmes is likely to see her at her best in Cardiff. She has an excellent catch rate, intuitive timing when cutting into the keeper zone from wide, and can confidently conserve and recycle possession, making her a valuable addition to the pass-heavy Mermaids attack. Expect her to shine in Cardiff.
Steve Withers – East Midland Archers
Withers is one to watch in the Championship as he defies the tendency for fast players to be lacking in strength and has considerable stopping power in defence. He, along with other chasers such as Katie Dickens, will link up time and time again with JT as distributor, finding space with precise timing or picking up goals from missed shots. Withers has to be one of the fastest players in the league, so do not forget to keep an eye out or you will miss him, and what a shame that would be.
Asia Piatek – London Monarchs
Asia Piatek’s rise to the top of the sport has been meteoric, to say the least. Coming to the close of her second season as captain of the London Monarchs, and recently returning from a strong individual performance at the World Cup, she will be looking to upgrade last year’s bronze medal to a gold one. She leads from the front, with scrappy, determined defensive play, composure and a willingness to drive, and is currently among the highest-scoring female players in the QPL. London look to be favourites going into the championships, and it is safe to say that Piatek will be an integral part of their success.
Ross Wiseman – Scottish Thistles
Wiseman is the epitome of scrappy and will work himself to the point of exhaustion. Although an able distributor and with a good arm too, he shines most brightly on the wings or behind hoops where he utilises his pace to be a threat against the unsuspecting defence. He is also the secret behind Scotland’s impressive catch rate, especially showing his skill when pulling his team through SWIM matches.
This Championship is going to represent change. Two new teams, more selective and elite squads, and probably a new champion. Compared with last year’s Championship fixture, you can expect to see even more stunning plays, newer and better tactics, and stars on the rise leaving their mark on the game. It is a massive year for expansion for the league itself, but you can be sure to see a raised skill level for players across the country over the next year, so let’s see what we are working with!