Sunday, January 3, 2016

QUAFL Team Review: Pool C

By James Hyder

QUAFL is the Australian national championships open to all teams held at the end of every calendar year, and signifies the end of the Australian season. 2015 saw 19 teams from six states travel to Melbourne, Victoria, for national glory. This three-part series reviews each of the teams, whether they exceeded expectations, and what they need to improve for next season.

Melbourne Manticores:
The Manticores continued their reign as Australia’s best team with their second QUAFL win in as many years. Many critics believed the Manticores could be rivalled and beaten this tournament; not only did the Manticores silence their critics, but they also proved they are still in a tier of their own. With an overall record of 8-0, including only one snitch range game, their performance was clinical. The overtime game against the Newcastle Fireballs (100 - 60* (OT)) was the Manticores’ only sign of weakness over the weekend, but it was promptly followed up by their victory eliminating the Fireballs on Day 2, 150* - 70. Captain Callum Mayling was the Manticores’ rock in defence and key weapon in offence, capping off a stellar year for the starting keeper. Chasers James Williams, Kat Hunter and Cassia Menkhorst were at their usual high level, with promise also arising from debutant Tristan Mayling. Having not played for the majority of the year, Natasha Keehan had a great performance at beater and did not look out of place when under pressure.

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Manticores keeper David Blamey playing in the Grand Final. | Photo by S.L. Dixon.
The loss of Deni Tasman to the Wrackspurts Quidditch Club will reduce the Manticores’ ability to play a double male beater set next season, and unless James Williams returns back to his beater origins, they will need to find and train another male beater. Another point to note is that many players on the Manticores are at the peak of their playing careers, and while they are still impressive, they are unlikely to reach a new level. Other players and teams are constantly improving around them, but the Manticores will remain, at worst, a top four side unless other teams can drastically improve.

Newcastle Fireballs:
On paper, the Fireballs squad looked worse than last year, a season in which they dramatically fell short of the QUAFL finals. Star player Dameon Osborn missed the first two games due to a suspension, and they only had three non-male players on the roster. However, they had shown great form throughout the Tri-wizard season and could still be finals contenders. Losing only to the Manticores over the weekend in a game where they took them to overtime in pool play without Osborn, the Fireballs should be happy with their performance, although frustrated at drawing the side of the finals with the Manticores. Pool C was considered one of the tougher pools, and the Fireballs still finished with the No. 4 seed for finals after dispatching the Australian National University Nargles, La Trolls University Quidditch Club, Perth Phoenixes, and Melbourne Unicorns with ease. The Fireballs’ traditional play style, which involves beaters Nicholas Allan and Desany Phanoraj clearing paths with bludgers for the likes of chasers Osborn and Roy Velting to run through was still central, but their improved passing game added a new dimension to their offence.
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Keeper Roy Velting playing for Newcastle against the Manticores. | Photo by S.L. Dixon.
For the Fireballs to remain at the top of the game, they have to retain the controversial yet illustrious beater pair of Allan and Emmanuel Berkowicz. Realistically, they need an additional receiver chaser to make their newly-developed passing game more of a threat. Ultimately, we will likely see the Fireballs making a deep run again next year if they can retain personnel.

Perth Phoenixes:
Every year the Phoenixes are the hardest team to predict because, due to their remote location, almost no one sees them play through the season. This year, the Phoenixes sent their biggest team ever to travel to QUAFL, where they showed promise for the future, though they simultaneously displayed a lack of cohesion and experience. Finishing third in Pool C was a good result for the team that put the Nargles, Unicorns and Trolls out of range, but struggled to get goals on the board against the stronger Manticores and Fireballs. Bowing out to the Basilisks (50*-0) in the first round of finals summed up their tournament: struggling to score, but playing a gritty, tight defence. Stewart Burton was a great addition to their chaser line and was their highest goal scorer, but they need to work on their offence and get more size and muscle into a team that does not have a chaser over 6 feet tall.  

The biggest question mark is whether their new players will improve at a faster rate than those of other teams around the country, to which the answer is: unlikely. Perth lacks the consistent match experience that New South Wales and Victoria players get throughout the season. They may improve less on average, but with over half the squad making their QUAFL debuts this year, they have a large group of young players who will improve. Expect to see them perform slightly better at next year’s QUAFL.
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James Hyder playing for the Phoenixes against La Trolls. | Photo by Daniel Di Crescenzo.
Melbourne Unicorns:
As they brought the smallest squad of the tournament, there was not much hope for the Unicorns to advance into finals.That did not stop them from shocking the tournament on Day 1 with a 50*- 30 win over the Nargles. Having not made the finals of a major tournament since the team’s inception in 2014, the Unicorns found themselves in unknown territory after earning a 2-3 pool play record and the No. 12 seed. Unfortunately, they were outgunned by the much more experienced Monash Muggles 130* - 10, but overall this was a fantastic result for the smallest team at the tournament.

Katie Topp and Nicholas Hirst playing for the Unicorns. | Photo by Jackson Weaver.

Vishal Chopra was a shining light for the Unicorns, scoring over half of their goals (7/12) for the tournament, but he needs more support on offense next season in the form of another  chaser. Although their performance was a step in the right direction, they will end up fighting for one of the last spots in the finals again next year unless they can restock their chaser line.

Australian National University Nargles:
Coming off their best Triwizard Tournament season and boasting the recently unveiled Australian Dropbears Captain, James Mortensen, it seemed almost impossible for the Nargles to not make it to the finals out of Pool C. However, first games are notoriously full of mistakes, and it seemed that the Nargles were plagued by errors as they lost to the Unicorns 50* - 30. A snitch-range loss to the Fireballs did not help their cause, and finally they were knocked out of the running for finals by the Phoenixes in a game in which the Nargles failed to score.

It is safe to say that the Nargles are the easiest pick of teams that did not make finals to improve for next year’s QUAFL. The loss of William Palmer to an ACL injury for the next year will have a huge impact, as he was a promising new player for the Nargles, and it is an injury that impacted their weakest aspect, chasers. They will need to recruit over the next year to form a chaser line that can support Mortensen because teams will continue to expose this weakness like they did at this year’s QUAFL.

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Beaters Shu Ying Lee and Zak Dowling playing for the Nargles. | Photo by S.L. Dixon.
La Trolls University Quidditch Club:
The Trolls had little expectation upon them to do well, being the young team that they are, especially in a tough pool. Despite playing well even with key players sustaining injuries, the Trolls finished with a disappointing 0-5 record. As the Trolls were without a win against the Unicorns all season, this would have been the game to get their first win on the board. Seeker Sean Arbuthnot was good all weekend with snitch catches, but could not deliver that game, and the Trolls fell short 80*-50.

La Trolls playing against the Phoenixes. | Photo by Daniel Di Crescenzo.
Ultimately, the Trolls have a lot to work on in both tactics and skills if they are to improve come next year's QUAFL. They need to recruit and develop more physical chasers who can take advantage of bludger-less defences. The Victoria quidditch scene provides great opportunities for the Trolls to improve due to the large amount of games and tournaments available throughout the year. After seeing the Unicorns make it to finals this year, the Trolls can believe they too can make it next year, but it will be a tall order and will require drastic improvement.

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