There are two games in the Midwest West Saturday. Both are important, but for starkly different reasons.
In one, the Milwaukee Westside Harlequins travel to the Chicago Blaze for a battle of the beaten.
Both teams are winless on the season, so relegation implications and pride are the stakes in Lemont, Ill.
In Chicago proper, the Lions host Metropolis to decide who slides into second place behind Palmer. Both have lost to the Dragons, and Saturday’s winner will be above .500, while the loser won’t.
“This is our big one, because this sets us up for either a run at Palmer, and we think we can improve on our last game against Palmer, gives us a shot at taking them down, otherwise we could take that second spot, which is big when it comes to the Midwest playoff system,” Metropolis coach Nate Osborne said.
Saturday is the Lions home opener, which will be big for more than morale, crowd support and a perceived personnel advantage, says Osborne.
“Their field seems to be narrow, but they’re like a forward dominated team, so it sort of suits their sort of style…They’re sort of like a big team that just runs hard. They’re sort of a different team when we play them down here and we can spread them out. But I know they’re out of the Super League, so they’ll probably be different again.”
Perhaps the biggest Lion, prop John Vitale, may make his season debut Saturday. He’s still recovering from a torn bicep he suffered at the Eagles domestic camp in the spring, and he won’t likely play 80 minutes, but he is set to pick up some time either against Metropolis or the Griffins the following week.
With the Lions coming down from the Super League, the question has to be asked, did they lose Super League players because of the move? Lions head coach Marty Wiggins says the club didn’t suffer a great amount of defections, but due to the timing of the Lions’ decision to leave the RSL, which was prompted by a late summer Midwest legislation change, some Super Leaguers have been unavailable.
“A lot of the guys who had played Super League had accepted wedding invitations and planned trips away and all the rest of it, believing that would be the same as it was last year -- no real harm.” Said Wiggins.
“But the reality is that’s all changed, and it’s a bit of a battle to convince these guys that the landscapes’ changed for us, that these are the big games, these are the must-win games, because this is where we’ve focused our attention…It’s been very hard to convince the majority of the Super Leaguers that this is the transformation that’s taken place. Not necessarily by our own choice, but we need to adjust accordingly.”
What were Osborne’s thoughts when he heard the Lions were dropping from the Super League?
“Good, that’s great for Midwest rugby...That’s great for us to challenge ourselves against the best teams every year, like Palmer who’s been in the final four the last couple years. I kind of think (the Lions) are going to be better than they were last year.”
On the road so far, that’s not been the case. But how will the Lions fare at home? We’ll find out Saturday.