As the new season quickly approaches and with less than 2 months until training begins once more, I thought I'd highlight some of the highs (and lows) of the 2015 season.
September 2015 saw the arrival of a large new group of Panthers (myself included). With a talented coaching staff already in place, as well as some well-seasoned vets, it promised to be an exciting season. It wasn't long before the ability levels of the rookies increased dramatically and we started to get a good look at what our team could accomplish on the field.
As the first few months went by we saw the development of a strong defensive unit, as well as some real promise on the offensive side of the ball. Talented DBs and linebackers were demonstrating a real threat on the practice field, with strong returning powerhouse Nasser Kinene and President Ian Whitehead showing their leadership potential during training. Couple this with a D-Line consisting of 4 experienced players (Purton, Lashley, Thorp and Ravenscroft) and the result is a defensive side filled with skill and athleticism. Offensively, the outlook was very much the same with veterans Kingshott and Sharples providing leadership and guidance for the newer players. A strong new offensive line (consisting of experienced D-Line players and fresh rookies) was starting to take shape, whilst immense depth at the Running back and WR position was filling the team with subtle optimism.
November came, and with it, the start of the regular season games. First up was a home fixture against Essex Blades. With the team being constantly reminded through training that Essex were determined to come to our home and embarrass us, the intensity increased both mentally and physically. With the strong message of “put up or shut up” from Head Coach Nick Wykes and with several ambitious rookies vying for starting spots on the roster, there was a noticeable increase in quality at practice. But, before long, it was game day.
Panthers 40 – 0 Blades
With a far from perfect game, the panthers were able to win in a convincing shut out. The point had been proven. Game 1 was done. Panthers mean business.
The following Sunday came: Game day vs Oxford. We all knew this was going to be THE test of the season. There was an unspoken expectation that if we could beat Oxford, we could beat the rest. But, it wasn’t to be…
Panthers 12 – 13 Lancers
In a battle of defensive grit and determination, and with both offenses struggling to put up points, it all came down to the 4th quarter, and ultimately success on the PAT. It wasn’t the panthers’ day, but, if we didn’t know it already, we had learned an important lesson: every play counts. It only takes one play to lose a game.
I did say I was going to mention the lows of the season and unfortunately, losing to Oxford in November was not one of them. We played hard, and in the end just couldn’t finish the job. But, we had 3 games to go before the Christmas break – ARU, Canterbury and Essex away. 3 games to play… and 3 games forfeited. We all know what happened, so I’ll just leave it at that…
The new year- 2016. With only 2 weeks training prior to our first game back in February, practice became a frantic attempt to earn back the time we had lost. It was another game against Oxford, and a chance to get even. They’d played more games than us, won more than anyone, been practicing longer and we were also missing a few of our key players (including our recently departed QB). But excuses don’t help you win games. With the odds stacked against us, the Panthers went in seeking revenge on Oxford, but ultimately, once more, we were outmatched. This time, however, the defeat was much more convincing.
Panthers 0 – 23 Lancers
A shutout from Oxford, and our dreams of a slim chance at playoffs vanished. But the season, was not over. Games need to be played, and with our division inexplicably under scrutiny from teams across the country, it still had to be proven that we can play some real football.
The ARU game. Well, when you’re 2-0 up after 2 quarters, there really just isn’t much to get excited about. A job needed doing in the second half, but even with the defence holding ground the offense just couldn’t manage to get those vital points to close out the game with ease. As it happened, the Rhinos decided they didn’t much fancy getting beat 2-0 and managed to steal 6 points. Yet again the Panthers saw themselves demoralised and, more importantly, unable to score.
Panthers 2 – 6 Rhinos
The last game of the regular season was sure to be one to raise the spirits. Surely Canterbury had no chance. We had the ability and we knew it. Now, it was time to finally prove it.
Last chance to show the division and the league what we can do. Last chance to put our mark on the season. Last cha---- GAME POSTPONED. Canterbury decided they couldn’t field a team, and the season was done.
The regular season that is. Thank God for Varsity.
A few more weeks training and we got to show what we could do against our Varsity rivals. Reading Knights, a tier above, and surely a challenge the likes of which we hadn’t faced so far.
My own memory of Varsity is somewhat blurred having got in from work at 5.30 am and needing to wake up at 7am to catch the coach on time. But, I’m told we played well and the result speaks for itself.
Panthers 14 – 0 Knights
There we have it. A season of some considerable lows, ending on a phenomenal high. Beating a team in the tier above is the perfect way to end a season such as this one. It doesn’t prove that anything will happen next season. It doesn’t mean we can walk into a division thinking we’re the big dogs, but it does build some confidence going forward. It shows what the Panthers are capable of when the team comes together.
For myself, personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year of American football and I look forward to playing it for another 2 years at Brookes, if not further after that. 2016 promises to be a bright year for the Panthers and I can’t wait to get back to training and see what talent this year’s rookies will bring to the table.