Its that time of year when we try to use our knowledge of polocrosse to work out who might win at the National Championships. Okay fine, you guessed it, actually we draw names out of a hat! Last year we got three out of five tips right, can we do better this year?
The defending champions Kent seem unlikely to defend their trophy as they have not run out an A grade team all year. Instead it would look like a straight fight between the old rivals Arden and Highlanders. In both 2005 and 2006 Highlanders emerged the victors but this year Arden have enjoyed more success. The Highlanders, however, often restrain from running out a full strength side until Nationals and also Arden lack former UK captain Jason Burbidge in their team this year.
The Highlanders have a wider range of players to choose from as well; their top team will probably consist of Guy and James Robertson, Martin Brookes and then three from Sarah Simkin, Ruth Jones, James Davidson and Jono Keen (formerly of Arden). All these seven players have been capped for the UK at open or under 21 level.
In return Arden will definitely have Greg Sargeant, Hamish Michael, Sophie Lodder and Dan Duhig, who are four of the very best players in the UK at present. Their fifth and sixth players will probably be two from Rob Jenkinson, Simon Paynter and Richard Chapple, who do not have as much A grade experience as the others and might struggle against the Highlanders. Also invariably the Highlanders horse power is better, due to the seemingly never ending string of good horses owned by Mr Guy Robertson.
All in all it would seem likely that the Highlanders will clinch their third title in four years but never discount Arden, who love nothing more than being underdogs.
Kent have looked the strongest B grade side this year and going on form would seem likely that they could clinch the National title, unless there top team gets pulled up into the A grade. Pennine will undoubtedly have a good, young side with players such as the Richardsons and Bryony Cross in it. The defending champions Arden should be strong as well, they defeated Welsh Dragons in the final last year in 2007. Ultimately B Grade is guaranteed to be close but our hunch is that Pennine could ultimately emerge victorious.
Again all the big clubs such as Kent, Pennine and Arden could well be strong but there are also clubs such as Celyn, Solent and Western Phoenix who could do well at this level. Celyn finished runners up to Solent last year and our hunch is this year they could go one better and win it, like they did when the Nationals were last at Liscombe Park in 2006, when they actually finished both first and second in an all-Celyn final.
Arden have enjoyed the most wins at D grade so far this year and they will probably have a strong team at Nationals. However, so could the defending D grade Champions Solent and it might be worth betting on one of the smaller clubs such as Centaur pulling off a shock victory.
Last year Kent reigned supreme in the Juniors defeating all who stood in their way, however this year it would seem to be a straight fight between Pennine and Arden. Many of the players due to be involved in this clash played each other at the Pony Club Championships on Sunday when Rockwood Harriers took on North Warwickshire and on that occasion it was the Midland players who emerged victorious. Pennine will be determined to gain revenge at the Nationals and it should be a brilliant contest to watch.
Last year it was Pennine who finished top of the pile in PJs with Kent in second place and it would seem entirely possible that this year Pennine could once again finish first. Arden have finished second to them on a number of occasions this season and they will be desperate to go one better at the Nationals.