A 31-0 whitewash of visiting Chester Romans last time around for Bryce Stevenson’s Northumberland Vikings set up a tantalising, Northern Final with the Nottingham Caesars, this Sunday (3 September) afternoon.
A clash that’s been mooted, discussed, bandied about for quite a while now, finally comes to fruition as two of the NFC1 champions go head-to-head for promotion, the Vikings having taken the NFC1 Central with a similar, 10-0 record.
Whitewashes were registered in games against the Lancashire Wolverines (42-0; 44-0), Darlington Steam (50-0), and Scunthorpe Alphas (28-0), prior to a fifth when they dismissed Chester in the quarters, although they have also endured three walkover ‘successes.’
“Ourselves and Nottingham have had a really year and this has been like a collision course, which a lot of people have expected happening throughout,” admitted Vikings HC, Bryce Stevenson.
“We’ve still had to train, work for games (regarding the three, walkover successes registered this season) – they’re games we’d have looked to give others a run-out, so there’s been a slight knock-on effect there which hasn’t been great.
“To be honest though, we haven’t been overly bothered; Scunthorpe (Alphas), they’re a really good team, Yorkshire (Rams) are Yorkshire, and so on, but our aim was to always finish in the top two seeds, and maybe even afford ourselves a bye week.
“Although with a few weeks still to play though there was still a good handful of teams we could have faced in the play-offs and, going into Yorkshire (last regular season), we had to batten down the hatches.”
As with Vanden Warner’s Nottingham, this season is all about this game, and a collision between the North’s top two teams.
Both have gone through the season undefeated, to date, with eleven wins apiece on their respective ledgers, Stevenson acknowledging his oppositions’ season when adding: “Nottingham I feel, they have learnt a lot of great lessons this season, and it’s pretty decent to have gone through the season unbeaten, be that eight games, ten games.
“This game though, on Sunday, it’s the biggest game, for both of us really, and with promotion on the line so, for us, this is the one that matters, there’s nothing else.
“North versus North matters the most and this is the third time we’ve been here having previously lost to both Leicester, and Sandwell (pre-Stevenson era).
“I’m glad that it’s Nottingham that we’re playing, it’s good for each of us, and for the sport. Both sides are seemingly a level above what looks like three tiers in the North.”
As is often the case in the north-east, the Vikings’ quarter-final home success against Chester Romans was under all conditions – the north-east does tend to get all the weathers’ in one day, and sometimes in a short space of time.
“Our game against Chester (Romans), all the prep was done for a dry weather game, and that’s how it was when we got here (Druid Park) at 10:30,” continued Stevenson.
“The heavens though, they opened by the time we’d done the second play of the game, and we’d had all weather’s by half-time – the first half was a run-fest, whilst the second we implemented the game-plan of the first – Chester though, they’re a good team, but we were excellent, so credit to them for the game that was played.”
As for the Northern final, with the Vikings playing hosts to the rampant Caesars, Stevenson is certainly expecting a game to remember.
“Against Nottingham though, we’re expecting a high physicality game, and they’ll be more than ready to go; they look good, consistent, and have been so all year,” concluded Stevenson.
“It’ll be a very evenly matched contest, two complimentary styles of football, creative specials teams, so it’ll be tight.
“Overall though, I’m expecting a one-score game as there’s not a great deal between us in what’ll be a great clash of the highest level.”
Northumberland Vikings welcome Nottingham Caesars in the Northern Play-Off final, Sunday 3 September, Druid Park, Woolsington; KO14:00, free entry with free parking available at the Callerton Parkway Metro Station (5 minute walk to ground).
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @vikings_afc Vikings in play-off action against Chester Romans (Michael Oakes).