August 23rd, 2007. By Pete Wrigley
With the regular season now over and the playoffs approaching fast, the Norwich Devils have built up an intense rivalry. However, this season it’s not old foes like the Ipswich Cardinals or the Cambridge Cats who have been pushing the Devils, it’s their own youth team!
This season, after getting off to flying starts, both the senior and youth teams were attempting to get through the season unbeaten, and although the youth team did just fall short when they lost to the reigning national champions, the London Warriors, after having beaten them earlier in the season, they still sailed into the playoffs as third ranked team in the country.
The senior team of course, managed to complete their own perfect season with a win at the weekend. Both teams now face a tough playoff schedule with the ultimate dream of reaching their respective championship game finals to be held at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield on Britbowl weekend (22nd and 23rd September).
The rivalry is no more intense than in the Barker household, where 21 year old Ben is a star receiver and kick returner for the senior team, whilst brother Nick, 19 years old, is a standout lineman with the youth team. Of course, whilst the family rivalry is fierce, it’s also friendly and both brothers would love to be watching each other playing in Sheffield, but equally want to be playing themselves. As Nick was quick to point out, “The Devils’ Youth Team has worked extremely hard to get to where we are, and we’re looking to go all the way to Don Valley. I know that both teams have what it takes to win the Championship, and it would certainly be the highlight of both my, and my brother’s careers”
Although both teams have championship wins under their belts in years gone by, they have never previously managed it in the same year. The youth team will be first to get their playoff challenge under way, this Sunday, with a first round tie at home to the Clyde Valley Hawks from Scotland who finished with a 3 – 3 record, being ranked 6th. Whilst Norwich will start favourites, there will be no room for complacency. Youth team coach Sean Lockwood has been pleased with how the season has gone, and whilst he may have ambitions as far as a possible championship win, is currently looking no further than the next game, “We’ve had a great season so far, only losing one game and ending up ranked 3rd in the country. To go out and win this game would be a big step for the team. I don’t know much about the Hawks, but I do know it will be a very hard game.” Kick off on Sunday will be at 12 noon at the Hewitt School in Norwich.
A week later, the seniors play their first round game against the runners up in the South West conference, which is either the Andover Thrashers or the Cornish Sharks, depending on results this weekend. The game is on Sunday 2nd September, again at the Hewitt School, but this time kicking off at 2.30pm. Senior team coach Nick Rockell is looking forward to a tough match up, and like his youth team counterpart, is taking nothing for granted “To go through the season and win every game is a great achievement, but now the hard work really starts. When you’re in the playoffs you get no second chances so we’ve got to make sure we’re ready.” If both teams manage to win they will be one game away from their respective finals.