Continuing looking back 5-years to reproduce the division-by-division forecast for the Veterans 10-Man League at the start of the 2017 season. More interesting than that is the commentary about each team's chances for the 2017 season, division-by-division.
2017 FORECAST SECTION 1
Well it’s a forgone conclusion isn’t it – Lockwood Cons to win the Section 1 Championship for a fourth consecutive season? They’ve increased their lead and points total each year and have totally dominated Veteran’s League bowling since 2013. In the League averages last year they had three of the top four singles bowlers and two of the top five pairs players. They won the Team KO and their bowlers lifted the Rose Bowl and Pairs titles last year. So with all that evidence it is going to be a brave man (or a fool, or both) to bet against them. Not me that is for sure and 80% of the Fantasy League teams include them in their selections. But wait – they lost two of their final three home games last season including to relegated Thongsbridge A, hardly the form of Invincibles surely. Could that be the first crack in their armour? No chance they were just winding down and were so relaxed having already clinched the title by then and swopping single and pairs bowlers around in an end-of-season celebration. Nothing to offer any encouragement to the chasing pack.
Last year I tipped Lockwood Cons to win the title and Clayton West to chase them home ahead of Netherton Cons. Well Netherton surprisingly imploded and dropped right out of contention and Milnsbridge BC had a resurgence of form which saw them finish as runners-up and lift the Bistro. Does that mean they are on the way back to the form that won them a record five consecutive titles between 2009 and 2013? The close-season hasn’t been kind to them and they have lost a couple of club stalwarts to other Section 1 teams so I fear that recovery may be halted before it has really begun. That being the case I think that Clayton West will pose the greatest threat to the Champions but that threat will be short-lived and it is Lockwood once again as my confident tip for the top.
There appears to be a new order emerging as well with the A teams from Meltham, Lindley Lib and Marsh Utd all improving last season to take 4th, 5th and 6th places and it will be interesting to see which of them can maintain that development to push on to the next level. All had identical 3-10 away records last year and any change in the order may be determined by the ones who can improve on that. Of these I fancy Lindley Lib to progress best, don’t know why other than they are improving at a rate of knots after promotion two years ago and seem to be a team on the up.
The real surprise last year was Netherton finishing 52 points behind the leaders after only being 8 points adrift the previous year and dropping from runners-up to ninth. Nearer the bottom than the top and I have no idea what the future holds for them but they certainly cannot afford a similar drop in fortunes again this year. I think they have too many good bowlers to end up in the relegation dogfight but that drop last year must be a worry for them. Waterloo also had a poor year by their standards and will need to reform their ways if they are to retain their mid-table position where Elland are likely to end up once again after taking eighth place for the last two years.
I really like the look of the two promoted teams, Rastrick and Almondbury BC A and expect them both to consolidate their top tier status this year. Golcar Lib duly obliged on my tip for them to be involved in the relegation battle last season however I think they have recruited well in the close season and whilst I don’t see them returning yet to the glory days of the mid-naughties I do think they will have a better season.
Looking downwards and I have two teams left still to mention. Shepley and Cowcliffe were both promoted two years ago and after bright starts to their Section 1 season both faded and I have them both down to fill the relegation places this year. If I have to pick one to be bottom, that’s difficult but a 0-13 away record last season for Cowcliffe puts them in pole position to prop up the end of season table in my book.
TABLE TOPPERS AGAIN: Lockwood Cons COWSHED CALAMITIES: Cowcliffe Lib
According to the Fantasy League tipsters this is the most open of all of our Sections with 10 of the 14 teams being selected by one or more entrants so far. The top choice to date is Brockholes A and there is good reason behind that confidence. They have strengthened well during the summer on the back of fourth place for the last two seasons. My boys at Kirkheaton Cons probably flattered a little last year in finishing third with seven teams winning more games than us and I certainly don’t intend to put the mockers on our chances by tipping us for promotion but you never know, we have been there before.
My friends from Thorpe Green gave me a lot of stick last year for tipping them for relegation especially when they headed the table at the half-way point and would probably appreciate me doing the same again this year, maybe I will.
With all the off-the-green problems that Newsome had last year it was amazing that they improved their league position from 7th to 6th and if they have benefitted from a year on their new green at Primrose Hill then they could be a real force this year. Add to that their wonderful cup run that took them to the Final of the Rose Bowl where they were far from disgraced in losing 101-92 to Milnsbridge A on a glorious day at Brockholes. They are obviously capable of performing at a higher level and may do so next year.
Looking at last year’s mid-table teams and the only ones making improvements from the previous year are Skel Windmill A and they have been unfortunate in losing a couple of their better players for 2017 so may have hit the buffers on their mini-revival. Of the rest, Canalside look very vulnerable after losing their captain and prolific winner to Brockholes and with finishing third-bottom last year are my pick to go down this time around.
Coming down from Section 1 we have Crosland Moor and Thongsbridge A with just one point separating them at the foot. Team raising problems and a five-point penalty didn’t help the Moor’s cause and Thongsbridge have been flirting with relegation for a couple of years. I expect both to be in the top bunch come the end of 2017.
Promotion from Section 3 for Linthwaite Hall and Kirkheaton C&BC A and they were both well ahead of the pack so a cut above the rest and worthy of Section 2 status but are they good enough to go straight through into the top Section? Brockholes are rightly entrenched as the Fantasy League top selection but I’m going out on a limb here and pushing Crosland Moor as my choice for the title. I know that they have some good bowlers and as long as they have enough of them to turn a full team out every week I can see them having a good year.
MOOR THE MERRIER: Crosland Moor FOOTER FODDER: Canalside A
Let’s start the Section 3 preview by looking at the also-rans from last season in that Section. Just eight points separated the four teams finishing 3rd to 6th and all have good reason to be optimistic about their chances for 2017. One point between Springwood and Milnsbridge B and just out of the promotion places and no doubt looking forward to a good season ahead. One point separated them in 2015 as well when they dropped out of Section 2 together.
Lindley Lib B and Brockholes B came out of Section 4 together in 2015 and adjusted well to the higher standard in Section 3 last year to finish creditably in 5th and 6th places. Both are obviously on an upward trend and must be taken seriously this year. Whereas Holmfirth A, Waterloo B, Paddock and Ravensknowle Park A all had lower final positions than the previous year suggesting that they will not be challenging for honours this season in fact I think they are all strong contenders for the relegation places and my foot of the table tip comes from amongst them.
The two teams coming down from Section 2 are Almondbury Lib and New Mill A. Both clubs have been busy during the summer strengthening their squads, certainly in numbers and maybe in quality as well. For Almondbury Lib it was a second consecutive relegation so much work to do there to address the balance and New Mill were 25 points behind them to show how far off the pace they were last year. It is difficult (for me) to see either mounting a strong campaign to make an immediate return to the higher level and a year of consolidation may be the best they both can hope for. The Fantasy League tipsters don’t quite see it like that with Almondbury Lib being the most popular selection in Section 3 so far with 30% of the votes which is the lowest for any top selection in our seven sections.
Joining the Section from Section 4 we have Slaithwaite and Bradley & Colne both bouncing straight back after relegation the previous year. Both look comfortable mid-table finishers to me as they settle into this higher level of competition. I’m making a bit of a speculative punt in backing Springwood to continue their improved form to take top spot whilst Ravensknowle Park A get my downward vote this year after escaping relegation last year by a single point.
WINNERS: Springwood LOSERS: Ravensknowle Park A
Three Section 4 teams had 11-0 home records last season and two of those teams are still in that Section this year and both have to be taken seriously. The Rugby Club and Marsden Park finished 3rd and 4th with those unbeaten home records being major factors and only poor away form limited their push for promotion. For the Rugby Club with a 12-1 record in 2015 as well it is clear that their abysmal away form (5 wins in the last two seasons) is solely responsible for their lack of challenge at the top of the table. Until they show some semblance of success on those trips I cannot see them claiming the top spot this year. That goes against the trend as no less than 55% of the Fantasy League Section 4 selections are for the Rugby Club which is the second-highest of any of the Sections to make them a strong favourite, except in my book. There is a case to support Marsden Park this year. Only relegated two years ago because of the league reorganisation and a creditable 4th last year behind two other relegated teams. No team will win a title just by winning all their home games they need to pick up points on the road as well. That away form worries me and it has to improve if they are to be taken seriously as title contenders. Maybe it will.
Thongsbridge B appear to be in a downward spiral with last year’s 6th place finish following a final third place the previous year so I am not prepared to back them this time around. Similar for Meltham C down from 4th in 2015 to 7th last year doesn’t give me any confidence about a promotion push this time around. Skel Windmill B consolidated in mid-table after their earlier relegation and need to be watched and could have an interesting season ahead of them.
Coming down are Netherton Con B and Almondbury BC B who were just one point short of safety last backend and could be a real threat this year. Whereas Netherton Con B seem to be dropping like a stone after a comfortable mid-table Section 3 finish in 2015 to 23 points short of safety last year it doesn’t make for positive reading. Almondbury had the best away record in the bottom half of Section 3 last year so there is obviously some potential hidden in there but is it enough to overhaul the Rugby Club? It’s a close call but I am hedging towards Almondbury BC B to bounce straight back by winning the Section 4 title this year.
Only the two relegated teams had worse away records than Golcar Lib B and David Brown Sports last season so I fear they are in for a long hard campaign this time around. The two promoted teams, Marsh Utd B and Lindley BC B have momentum but little else to justify promotion hopes again in my opinion and after deriding their chances last season I can hardly hold them up as shining examples this season. In fact, I am going to do something really stupid and spiteful and tip Marsh Utd to finish bottom for a second time and maybe they will once again do the dirty on me. I am sure that they will be delighted to receive my confident vote once again this year!
CHAMPS ELECT: Almondbury BC B GOING DOWN AGAIN: Marsh Utd B
Where to start with Section 5 my annus horribilis of last year! Fancy Marsh Utd B winning the Section after I tipped them to finish bottom, how inconsiderate of them. I had good reason to as well as only ‘goal average’ had saved them from bottom place the year before and the shake-up of the Sections saw 6 teams coming down from Section 4. They had no right to win that Section and my confidence about this Section is completely shot. However I picked Outlane last year to do the business and they duly won 17 of their 22 league matches, exactly the same number as the promoted two but could only manage fourth place. The Fantasy League tipsters are showing overwhelming support for them for the coming season so do I stay loyal and tip them again?
Lets look at the alternatives with Canalside B again a strong contender after their 3rd place finish last year after unfortunately dropping a Section as part of the 2016 reorganisation of Sections. The two teams coming down this year have to be factored in as well but both had such dramatic falls from their previous safe mid-Section 4 positions to be well adrift at the foot of the table that they appear to be in a really bad place at present so I am going to discount them both from the title race.
Holmfirth B was the Fantasy League tipsters top Section 5 selection last year but that confidence proved unfounded as they finally finished in the bottom half and I see no reason why that should improve. Denby Dale may be about to take off after consolidating their position after relegation in 2015 but then again they may not! Greenhead Park are definitely on the upward path and I expect to see them improve on last year’s 6th place but maybe not enough to worry the main contenders.
So make-your-mind-up-time for top place and I keep coming back to Outlane and Canalside B. The Sub-Team KO success enjoyed by Outlane last year may have improved their confidence but even with all that success they still finished behind Canalside B who are going to carry the burden of my vote for 2017. Looking downwards and the team raising difficulties experienced by New Mill B and Elland B contributed to their bottom two finishes last season. Elland failed to field a full team in 13 of their 22 league fixtures and received a yellow card from the Management Committee so cannot afford to have the same experience again. New Mill got their act together mid-season but still too late to improve their position. Ravensknowle Park seem to be an improving team but Kirkheaton C&BC B are going in the opposite direction and I think they will only be spared bottom spot by New Mill B my tip for the final place this year but what do I know and you can now fully expect them to run away with the title!
TABLE TOPPERS: Canalside B CRASH CONTENDERS: New Mill B
Coming up - how those forecasts ended up over the 2017 season