The penultimate round of the 2011 American National Rugby League season is now upon us with the last four teams standing facing off in the Atlantic Conference semifinals. The AMNRL has elected to make it a doubleheader event Friday night at Pier 40 in Manhattan. It’s also known colloquially as The Castle and is the regular home of the New York Knights.
In the early game, the #1 ranked Knights will play host to #4 Bucks County Sharks, while the #2 seeded Connecticut Wildcats will meet #3 Northern Raiders in the late game. All four teams are deserving of their spots in the semis. The Knights will be an extremely tough nut to crack given that they finished with the best record in the regular season at 6-1. Their only loss was a two-pointer against the Wildcats on opening day, but since then they have been virtually unstoppable. The one and only time that New York and Bucks County faced each other in the regular season was back in Round 5 in early July when the Knights inflicted the biggest defeat of the Sharks by pounding them 60-4. Indeed, New York has averaged 50.7 points for and a meager 15 points against per game this season, plus they are unbeaten at home, meaning the visitors will have it stacked against them.
Bucks County will need to contain the likes of Nigel Millgate, the league’s leading point-scorer (100), Xavier Lozinguez and captain Gareth Baxendale, who have dominated the opposition all season long. The latter two also have been named in the USA Tomahawks Train-On squad. The Sharks were 4-3, which isn’t bad in their return to the AMNRL after a year’s hiatus. Their biggest winning margin was a 68-14 shellacking of the expansion franchise Delaware Vipers way back in Round 2, but since then they have had a rollercoaster ride. Standouts for Bucks County have included Phil Shipos, former Penn State youngster Ryan Sodano and Steve Thompson. All three have been rewarded for their efforts with inclusion in the national team squad.
The second game looks to be a competitive matchup. The Cats will be aiming to make it a clean sweep of their meetings in 2011 having dispatched the Raiders 56-6 in the final round of the regular season, although in the ensuing three weeks the Raiders have rediscovered their best form by posting a solid win in the qualifying finals. The Wildcats, at 5-1-1, were the second best team in the comp during the regular season outscoring their opposition by 262 points to 122. Their biggest victory was a 66-22 decision against the Sharks. Among the players to watch are veteran skipper Curtis Cunz, Will Garcia and Nick Vornley. All three are in the Tomahawks’ Train-On squad.
The Northern Raiders finished the regular season at 3-4, but their record doesn’t reflect the true nature of the good, hard, grinding work they put in. They were led by their Australian imports Dan Fullarton, Matt Vautin and Hawaiian-born Leslie Alovili, who were backed up by homegrown talent such as stalwart Joel Venables, Paulo Reis and Fred Vero. Alovili was among the leading try-scorers in the AMNRL’s Atlantic Conference and all of them, apart from the imports, are in the USA’s Train-On squad. We couldn’t ask for better semifinals and if you can’t get to the games don’t forget to check back right here for all the news, scores and highlights from what promises to be an exciting second to last round of action in the American National Rugby League.
AMNRL Semifinals - Pier 40 Manhattan
New York Knights v Bucks County Sharks 8p ET
Connecticut Wildcats v Northern Raiders 9:45p ET