There aren’t a lot of playoff implications in the Midwest games this weekend.
Columbus and Indianapolis play in a battle of 0-3 teams, Buffalo and Cincinnati are set to replay a game the Wolfhounds won 46-3 in August and the winless Milwaukee Harlequins go up against the juggernaut otherwise known as Palmer.
The most intriguing games are a friendly between the Chicago Griffins and Lions and a match between the one-win Chicago Blaze and Metropolis.
Since the Lions have dropped from Super League, the fall matchup between the old rivals is as important to rivalry as it ever has been.
“I’m sure there’s always going to be that element of it. They’re our neighbors, they’re the big boy next door,” said Lions coach Marty Wiggins.
“We’ll be looking to assert ourselves, but that’s no different from any other weekend. Maybe there’ll be more venom in this for the boys, but for me it’s more a of a case of we’ve got so many other things we need to get right, I don’t want to muddy those waters.”
The Lions have been struggling with inconsistency, and part of that is due to the pains of breaking in a new flyhalf, however talented, in Nick Viviani.
“While our style of rugby looks simplistic, there’s actually a little bit to it, so he’s learning those ropes in terms of what we want to do, but he’s also by the same token, coming along nicely,” said Wiggins.
“The thing is while we’re learning, these other teams are making the most of their opportunities. The upside is if this was Super League, we’d be doing this and then we’d be finished in another couple of weeks, whereas now we get to turnaround, play a friendly with the Griffins, if that can ever be called a friendly, and then we come back into the second round.”
While the Blaze are 1-3, their last two losses come by a combined 21 points, and both were competitive.
“We’re knocking on the door. Palmer put it on us really strong and they kicked the (stuffing) out of us (73-14), but that was our first big game. It was the first time the guys have never seen a DI game, especially of that caliber, because Palmer’s very well skilled,” Blaze player/coach Lance Houia said.
Recently, teams like Lincoln Park, Milwaukee RFC and Wisconsin have had trouble maintaining their DI status after being promoted from DII. The Blaze, however, like the competition they’ve found in DI, and they plan to make the higher division home.
“We strive to stay up in DI, and we are right there. We are that close, because we can compete with all those big teams in DI,” said Houia.
“We hit the biggest teams right out the gate. For me, that shows my brother and my team here’s the level, and this is the time and commitment on your off days you have to put in to play at this level. It’s the difference between DII and DI, that and when you make mistakes they capitalize and they’re going to score.”
The Blaze are taking a battered team to Minneapolis this weekend, so 0-5 looks possible.
(The original run of this article incorrectly stated the Blaze lost to the Milwaukee Harlequins and inaccurately depicted how DII teams who've moved up to DI have done.)