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First off , there’s this thing in Chicago, where the Chicago Griffins ran out to a 24-7 first-half lead, and then saw the Lions claw back to tie it 24-24. That showed us a lot. First of all, it showed that the Griffins, struggling early, are still to be reckoned with.

“I thought we started with a lot of intensity,” said Griffins Head Coach Wez Parkes. “We talked a lot as a team about getting the mentality right, and we did for the first half. But we have a young team, and I knew at halftime that a couple of things would happen – the Lions would get the wind, and they would ramp up the intensity themselves. That’s what happened.”

Still, the Griffins were startling in the first half, and Andrew Suniula, normally a center, stepped in at flyhalf and assumed the role of field general very nicely. And the Griffins know now they can play with the top teams.

Are the Lions a top team? They showed in the second half, scoring three unanswered tries, that they are.

“We had some things to sort out,” said Lions Head Coach Marty Wiggins. “The guys came out with a fresh approach in the second half and tried to match the Griffins’ intensity.”

There’s that intensity comment again – the two coaches essentially assessing the game the same way, which is rare.

“In the first half we were flat-footed defensively, so when we were making tackles we were catching them, not dictating things at the contact point,” Wiggins continued. “They’ve got a couple of big players and they caused us some trouble.”

Wiggins said he was proud of how his team responded.

“It took a lot of courage on their part, down 24-7 and not a lot going our way, to respond,” said Wiggins. “But the guys are lifting themselves.”

The unanswered question is, however, why didn’t the Griffins respond? With two new callups for the USA Selects, and an Eagle at flyhalf, why didn’t they react to the Lions in the second half? A partial answer is that the Griffins started committing penalties in the rucks, which halted any momentum. The other partial answer is still to come.

Still, the Griffins tied an excellent Lions team and moved to 2-1-1. That puts them in the conversation. Who else is in the conversation?

Chicago Lions. Well-balanced. Lots of enthusiasm. Last year some Super League players weren’t ready for the fall season (the Lions pulled out of the RSL kind of late in the summer). Of those who did play, some approached the fall as if they just had to show up and the wins would flow. Shock for them.

This time around, they are better prepared. Brian Rooney, Matt Priest, these are guys who are fueling that enthusiasm.

Metropolis. Coach Nate Osborn has them believing they can win. Last year they got more and more confident. This year? It’s blossoming. They thumped Palmer twice. Osborne says the players are easier to coach now. He has seven subs who are as good as his starters and can come on, fit in, and lift the intensity (there’s that word again). They are 4-0.

Cincinnati Wolfhounds. Yes they are in something of a weaker division, but they are still 4-0, and have won impressively on the road. They have the makings of a very strong team – excellent back row, speed out wide, and some good, smart kickers.

Detroit Tradesmen. Second in a weak division? That would be the analysis. The Tradesmen are 3-1, but all the games have been against Indianapolis and Columbus. Our worry is their defense. They have given up almost 25 points a game. Compare that the Cincinnati’s 13.5, the Griffins’ 21 (with two games against the Lions), 22 for Metropolis (with two games against Palmer) or 18 for the Lions.

Dark Horse
Palmer. Remember how Palmer was third in the nation last year? They are now (off) 1-3. Two of those losses came against Metropolis, which we know is better now than they were six months ago, and one against the Lions. Palmer’s remaining schedule is Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and then Milwaukee again (who made this schedule anyway??). They can run that table and then some.

Those are the best teams in the Midwest. The Chicago Blaze are winless and have a very tough final four games. They could beat Indianapolis for their lone win. The Impalas are 0-4 but could end up 3-5 if they beat Columbus twice and the Blaze once. Columbus, with an easier run through the second half, could end up 4-4, but that’s as far as they will go.

So here’s how it looks from here on out.

Columbus, which has a pretty high-powered attack, could finish 4-4 and pass Detroit, which has a tougher second-half schedule. The Chicago Lions would well win the rest of their games and go 7-0-1. The Griffins will struggle, in part because they lose some key players to the ARC for the next few weeks, and in part because they play Metropolis twice. They could be 4-3-1.

Metropolis should win their pool, likely at 7-1, with Palmer close behind at 5-3 (last weekend’s Metro victory over the Iowa team now looming critical). Cincinnati Should win their pool, but games against the Griffins and Palmer will be tough, and 6-2 might be how they finish.

That all sets up a Chicago Lions v. Metropolis clash for the championship, with others waiting to be spoilers.